Voters Favor Medicare Choice

Voters overwhelmingly say they want Medicare to offer a choice of private sector health plans that would integrate a prescription drug benefit into comprehensive health coverage, according to a new nationwide survey.

However, many seniors are leery of the complex, stand-alone drug benefit being crafted by the Senate, fearing it could be worse than the coverage they now have.

The in-depth survey was commissioned by the Galen Institute, a free-market think tank, and conducted by Zogby International which interviewed 1,007 likely voters last Wednesday through Saturday to gauge voters’ views on Medicare proposals currently being debated in Congress.

The survey showed that 82% of all voters surveyed and two-thirds of seniors agree that “seniors should have the option of picking a private health plan approved by the Medicare program to provide their health benefits.”

When the prescription drug benefit program devised by the Senate was described, 74% of seniors said it would be worse than the coverage they have now.

Further only 16% of seniors who are without any drug coverage said they would be “very likely” to sign up for the Senate’s new drug benefit plan.

Any insurance company would pull the policy from the market with survey results like that.

The stand-alone drug benefit being considered by the Senate would be voluntary, but those signing up will have to pay $35 a month for the coverage as well as the first $275 a year in drug expenses. After that, they would have half of their drug bills covered, up to $4,500 a year. Then they’d have to pay another $1,200 out of pocket before insurance would trigger in again.

While voters clearly want a choice of private sector options, this politically driven benefit fails the market research test and needs to go back to the drawing board.

And it’s not just seniors without drug coverage who are rejecting the Senate’s drug plan. Most of those with drug insurance are worried that “a government-provided prescription drug benefit might mean that some people could lose their private health care coverage and become more dependent on government funding.”

This could be the Achilles’ Heel of the drug benefit debate: If enough of the 75% of seniors who currently have drug coverage get scared that they might lose it if this new government entitlement is enacted, then they could throw bolders in the track of this Medicare fright train.

The kind of choices that seniors say they want actually mirror the Medicare modernization idea that President Bush put forward early this year.

The program the White House offered, and which still has a fighting chance in the House, would allow seniors to choose from a range of competing private health plans offering comprehensive health services and which wouldn’t need an act of Congress to add a new benefit or technology. The federal government still would pick up most of the cost of the new plans.

Twenty-seven Republican Senators sent a letter to the White House recently, insisting that the president push for these Medicare updates along with the new drug benefit. A number of Republicans in the House also are ready to withhold their support from a Medicare drug bill unless modernization of the Medicare program is included.

The legislation that the Senate is expected to vote on this week is unlikely to provide the kind of choice that voters want, giving plans flexibility in the benefit structure so that they can offer health coverage that seniors could afford and would want to buy.

With Congress debating the largest entitlement expansion in Medicare’s history, it is important to ask the American people in some detail what they think about the choices before them. Now the results are in.

Clearly, there is demand for more choice and private section options in Medicare. The question is whether or not Congress will provide new options that are appealing to seniors and that can actually succeed in the marketplace.

Grace-Marie Turner




Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a not-for-profit research organization focusing on ideas to promote free-market health reform. She can be reached at P.O. Box 19080, Alexandria, VA, 22320.

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Voters overwhelmingly say they want Medicare to offer a choice of private sector health plans that would integrate a prescription drug benefit into comprehensive health coverage, according to a new nationwide survey.

However, many seniors are leery of the complex, stand-alone drug benefit being crafted by the Senate, fearing it could be worse than the coverage they now have.

The in-depth survey was commissioned by the Galen Institute, a free-market think tank, and conducted by Zogby International which interviewed 1,007 likely voters last Wednesday through Saturday to gauge voters’ views on Medicare proposals currently being debated in Congress.

The survey showed that 82% of all voters surveyed and two-thirds of seniors agree that “seniors should have the option of picking a private health plan approved by the Medicare program to provide their health benefits.”

When the prescription drug benefit program devised by the Senate was described, 74% of seniors said it would be worse than the coverage they have now.

Further only 16% of seniors who are without any drug coverage said they would be “very likely” to sign up for the Senate’s new drug benefit plan.

Any insurance company would pull the policy from the market with survey results like that.

The stand-alone drug benefit being considered by the Senate would be voluntary, but those signing up will have to pay $35 a month for the coverage as well as the first $275 a year in drug expenses. After that, they would have half of their drug bills covered, up to $4,500 a year. Then they’d have to pay another $1,200 out of pocket before insurance would trigger in again.

While voters clearly want a choice of private sector options, this politically driven benefit fails the market research test and needs to go back to the drawing board.

And it’s not just seniors without drug coverage who are rejecting the Senate’s drug plan. Most of those with drug insurance are worried that “a government-provided prescription drug benefit might mean that some people could lose their private health care coverage and become more dependent on government funding.”

This could be the Achilles’ Heel of the drug benefit debate: If enough of the 75% of seniors who currently have drug coverage get scared that they might lose it if this new government entitlement is enacted, then they could throw bolders in the track of this Medicare fright train.

The kind of choices that seniors say they want actually mirror the Medicare modernization idea that President Bush put forward early this year.

The program the White House offered, and which still has a fighting chance in the House, would allow seniors to choose from a range of competing private health plans offering comprehensive health services and which wouldn’t need an act of Congress to add a new benefit or technology. The federal government still would pick up most of the cost of the new plans.

Twenty-seven Republican Senators sent a letter to the White House recently, insisting that the president push for these Medicare updates along with the new drug benefit. A number of Republicans in the House also are ready to withhold their support from a Medicare drug bill unless modernization of the Medicare program is included.

The legislation that the Senate is expected to vote on this week is unlikely to provide the kind of choice that voters want, giving plans flexibility in the benefit structure so that they can offer health coverage that seniors could afford and would want to buy.

With Congress debating the largest entitlement expansion in Medicare’s history, it is important to ask the American people in some detail what they think about the choices before them. Now the results are in.

Clearly, there is demand for more choice and private section options in Medicare. The question is whether or not Congress will provide new options that are appealing to seniors and that can actually succeed in the marketplace.

Grace-Marie Turner




Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a not-for-profit research organization focusing on ideas to promote free-market health reform. She can be reached at P.O. Box 19080, Alexandria, VA, 22320.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE

About the author