Most Medicare patients don’t understand the program

Maybe this should be addressed as part of the great Medicare debate: Three out of four seniors on Medicare say the government health program is difficult to understand.

Most of the respondents to a survey from Extend Health said that the task of understanding Medicare when they turned 65 and became eligible for coverage was “somewhat difficult,” “very difficult,” “impossible without help,” or that they “still don’t understand original Medicare” as well as they would like.

“Understanding Medicare and various coverage options can be confusing,” says Bryce Williams, founder of Extend Health and managing director of exchange solutions for Towers Watson. “In addition to signing up for original Medicare, seniors can purchase private Medicare Advantage or Medigap plans to fill gaps in what original Medicare covers. This adds another layer of complexity to their choices.”

Roughly 60 percent of respondents said they performed research or sought advice before signing up. But just 39 percent of respondents reported they were satisfied with what they knew about Medicare at that time, and 16 percent said they wished they’d had estimates of what their out-of-pocket expenses were going to be based on the coverage choices they made.

Knowing whether they could use the doctors and hospitals they prefered to use was the most important thing they wanted to know when making decisions about Medicare coverage, the survey found. They also cited benefits and services covered; an estimate on out-of-pocket expenses based on coverage choices; and cost of deductibles, co-payments, coinsurance and premiums. Cost and quality of plans were only the most important takeaway to less than 5 percent of Medicare patients.

 “The takeaway for seniors turning 65 this year—or for seniors already on Medicare making decisions to change or renew their coverage options during the upcoming annual enrollment period—is that it’s important to have the right information to make sure you have the right coverage based on your health needs and desires.”

The survey was fielded to 516 seniors on Medicare from Aug. 19–20 by Extend Health.

Extend Health, a Towers Watson company, operates the largest private Medicare exchange in the country.

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