09 Jul 2015 Does Medicare Impoverish the Disabled?
In my new book, Medicare Victims: How the U.S. Government’s Largest Health Care Program Harms Patients and Impairs Physicians, I examine how the disabled fare with Medicare’s cost sharing.
One disabled woman that I interviewed for the book was Francine English, who is now, sadly, deceased. For her, the problem was Medicare’s cost sharing. For example, Medicare Part B requires beneficiaries to pay 20 percent of any treatment; Medicare pays the other 80 percent. Most seniors on Medicare have some type of supplemental insurance, often called Medigap, that covers the cost sharing. But it’s expensive, and if you’re like Francine who was getting about $10,000 annually from Social Security Disability Insurance, you’re not able to afford the premiums. At the time I interviewed her, Medicare’s cost sharing had caused her to run up about $2,000 in medical debt.
One of the things I found most interesting while researching this book is that there doesn’t appear to be any research on the amount of medical debt incurred by the disabled who are on Medicare. It would seem to be a prime area for research. You have patients who are often quite ill, need a lot of health care, and often don’t have the means to pay for Medicare’s cost sharing. But no one, apparently, had looked at this phenomenon. Thus, I had no way of discussing the extent of the problem.
The best I could do was to examine whether there were a lot of disabled people on Medicare who had trouble accessing care because of the cost sharing. As a I noted in Tuesday’s blog post, there is a lot of evidence that disabled people on Medicare do have trouble accessing care because of cost. Thus, if there are a lot of disabled patients who don’t access care because of cost, it would likely follow that there disabled patients who run up a lot of debt because they do seek care.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a good explanation for what is arguably the biggest problem most overlooked by health care researchers at least in regards to Medicare. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the vast majority of health care researchers are liberals and, as such, probably have little interest in digging into the shortcomings of government programs. But that’s just a theory.
Nevertheless, it is an area that should be thoroughly researched because it’s quite possible that Medicare may impoverish some of our most vulnerable citizens by saddling them with medical debt.