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Medicare Helps People Become and Stay Healthy

It's unclear what studies Roy Blunt read to make him believe "Medicare has never done anything to make people more healthy," because everything I've seen shows that seniors are indeed more healthy because of Medicare.  In fact, Medicare covers nearly 45 million beneficiaries (about 15% of the population), including 38 million seniors and 7 million younger adults with permanent disabilities. Yes, it's expensive and needs some reforms to keep helping people in a sustainable manner, but that's a separate issue from whether or not it actually makes people healthier.

Medicare, as Blunt surely knows, has four parts:

  • PART A, the Hospital Insurance (HI) program, which covers inpatient hospital services, skilled nursing facility, home health, and hospice care.
  • PART B, the Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI) program, which helps pay for physician, outpatient, home health, and preventive services.
  • PART C, the Medicare Advantage program, which allows beneficiaries to enroll in a private plan, such as a health maintenance organization (HMO), preferred provider organization (PPO), or private fee-for-service (PFFS) plan.
  • PART D, the outpatient prescription drug benefit.

A Health Affairs article published a few years ago shows that since Medicare was created in 1966, the health of seniors has improved:

Today the picture is different. The health of the elderly population has improved, as measured by both longevity and functional status. Life expectancy at age sixty-five increased from 14.3 years in 1960 to 17.8 years in 1998 The chronically disabled elderly population declined from24.9 percent in 1982 to 21.3 percent in 1994. Some claim that Medicare may be partly responsible for the better survival of the U.S. elderly age eighty and older compared with similar industrialized countries. It has even been argued that better health of the elderly population will moderate the increase in Medicare spending.

It's probably because Blunt's direct quote was "taken out of context." Stand by for the explanation of why he didn't mean what he said.

Image credits: The Kaiser Family Foundation and AARP Public Policy Institute



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