To be eligible for medical coverage, Americans must reach the age of 65. And they must have worked for at least 10 years in Medicare-covered employment.
But having to wait this long for coverage is proving costly for the American government.
It seems that those who had no health insurance before being eligible for Medicare end up with some pretty expensive bills once they are finally covered.
A new study, led by Michael McWilliams of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, discovered the obvious. Due to high costs, uninsured people put off the care they need until they are eligible for Medicare. This makes it more expensive to treat these people once Medicare is available to pay.
The study also found that newly-covered people continue to cost more for the first eight years they are in the program.
The study compared Medicare expenses for 1,385 people without health insurance and 3,773 who had private insurance coverage. The uninsured had costs 51% higher than the insured people. Both groups were getting treatment for ailments that included diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
And those in the study who were uninsured before getting Medicare reported 13% more doctor visits and 20% more hospitalizations.
“However, among adults without these conditions, health care use… after age 65 did not differ significantly between previously insured and uninsured adults,” reported the research team.
America is a wealthy country. And it spends more than any other country on health care. Despite this, the U.S. does not do as well on quality, health outcomes, equity, or access to care compared to other wealthy nations.
The healthcare system is largely fragmented. U.S. healthcare reform is one of the top issues in the current election campaign. Members of Congress have been suggesting ideas to improve access to quality medical care.
McWilliams said that the study made at least one thing clear: extending healthcare coverage to uninsured near- elderly adults might, in the end, cost less than making people wait for necessary treatments to be covered.
The American College of Physicians has now endorsed the idea of allowing insured adults to purchase Medicare coverage before age 65.
Medicare accounts for 14% of the federal budget.
This study highlights the importance of health insurance coverage for all Americans to improve the efficiency of the healthcare system. It also speaks to the need to improve the quality of health care and health outcomes.