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Elderly more satisfied with health insurance than younger Americans, survey finds

This March 22, 2012, file photo, shows the Supreme Court in Washington.  (Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP Photo/File)
This March 22, 2012, file photo, shows the Supreme Court in Washington. (Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP Photo/File)

WASHINGTON — Elderly Americans on Medicare are substantially happier with their insurance coverage than their younger counterparts who rely on commercial insurance, according to a new national survey.

Only 8 percent of Medicare beneficiaries 65 or over rated their coverage “fair” or “poor,” the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund found.

By comparison, 20 percent of those with employer-based coverage gave their insurance plan low marks. And 33 percent of people who bought insurance on their own reported unhappiness with their coverage.

“There are a lot of myths out there,” said Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis, the lead author of the report published in the journal Health Affairs. “It is important to remember how well Medicare performs.”

The findings come as Washington policymakers prepare for a renewed debate, probably early next year, over the future of the massive entitlement program that covers about 50 million elderly and disabled Americans.

Republicans, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, want to convert Medicare into what they call a “premium support” program that gives beneficiaries vouchers to buy a private insurance plan of their choosing.

“Choice and competition remain the only means by which costs can be brought under control without sacrificing quality,” House Budget Committee chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., said in a recent interview with the conservative newspaper Human Events.

Those on Medicare are also more likely to rate the quality of their care as excellent and less likely to report problems paying their medical bills or accessing needed care because of cost, though Medicare beneficiaries who are disabled report less satisfaction than elderly beneficiaries.

The Commonwealth Fund researchers found more mixed results comparing the attitudes of seniors in traditional Medicare with those in Medicare Advantage who have signed up for a private health insurance plan to administer their Medicare benefits. Only 6 percent of those in traditional Medicare rated their insurance “fair” or “poor,” while 15 percent gave their Medicare Advantage plan that assessment.

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