Myths About Medicare

There is a lot of misinformation about Medicare on the internet, in the press, and in the minds of many seniors. Recently, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPac) produced  a data book on Medicare spending which offers numbers and charts  to provide a clear view of Medicare.  The information debunks many of the myths that are part of the public perception of Medicare.

Healthbeat blog author Maggie Mahar  studied the MedPac data and wrote about it in her blog.  I have provided excerpts of her analysis below:

MYTH #1:  Physicians have been refusing to take new Medicare patients and many seniors have a hard time making appointments.

FACT: The MedPac report shows that Medicare patients reported having as good or better access to doctors than did privately insured patients during the period of 2006 to 2009.  This also applied to making appointments with primary care physicians.

MYTH #2: The bulk of Medicare dollars are spent on acute care during the final weeks of life.

FACT: According the MedPac report, about 25% of Medicare dollars are spent on patients during the final year of life- not the final weeks.

MYTH #3:  Medicare reimbursements to physicians have remained flat or were down over the past decade.

FACT: MedPac data show that from 1998 to 2008 Medicare fee-for-service reimbursements to physicians climbed by 75%.

Mahar notes that the 75% increase reflects the fact that Medicare raised fees for some services, but she writes: “most of the hike in income can be traced to higher volume: doctors have been “doing more” as they prescribe more tests and recommend more procedures.”

MYTH #4:  Medicare has been underpaying hospitals for years, and reimbursements rarely match the cost of actually treating the patients, which is why hospitals must charge private insurers more.

FACT: From 1998 to 2008, Medicare fee-for service reimbursements to hospitals for outpatient services climbed by 85%. Mahar notes that the data “suggests that hospitals were performing more tests and procedures on each patient” resulting in higher bills to Medicare.

Mahar writes that the Medpac data show that “hospital profit margins vary widely, but many do make a nice profit on Medicare reimbursements.”

The full post can be read at the Healthbeat blog.

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