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Survey shows widespread confusion about Medicare eligibility

More than half of all Americans not currently receiving Medicare benefits don't know they will be eligible for Medicare at age 65, according to preliminary results from the 2001 Health Confidence Survey (HCS) released by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) in Washington, D.C.

A third of Americans over age 65 are not confident that

they can afford prescription

drugs today

without financial

hardship.

The survey, conducted between April 30 and May 22, 2001, through 20-minute telephone interviews with 1,001 individuals age 21 and older, found that only 38 percent of Americans know that they will be eligible for Medicare at age 65.

Thirty-two percent of respondents said they "don't know" when they will be eligible for Medicare, while 18 percent thought they would be eligible before age 65. Another six percent thought the age for eligibility was over 65.

Americans ages 55 to 64 were the most likely to give the correct answer, and the data shows that the younger the respondent, the less likely he/she was to know the age of eligibility.

The survey also asked questions about consumers' confidence in the American health care system, their satisfaction with health care they received, and their attitudes about Medicare reform.

The cost of prescription drugs is the chief concern among Medicare recipients, according to the survey. A third of respondents over age 65 are not confident that they can afford prescription drugs today without financial hardship, and 41 percent of seniors are not confident that they will be able to afford prescription drugs in the next 10 years.

Those over age 65 largely agree with younger Americans as far as which options for Medicare reform they support, but seniors are generally less supportive of reform to begin with.

Medicare recipients are more satisfied with the health care services they received in the last two years than are Americans under age 65, the survey says. While 19 percent of respondents over age 65 are not satisfied with the costs of services not covered by insurance, 41 percent of Americans under 65 were dissatisfied in this area. Similarly, while only 5 percent of seniors were not satisfied with their ability to choose their doctor or get referrals to specialists, nearly four times that percentage of respondents under 65 were dissatisfied with this aspect of their health care.

In the area of Medicare reform, those over age 65 largely agree with younger Americans as far as which options for reform they support. However, seniors are generally less supportive of Medicare reform to begin with. The most favored option among all Americans is to reform Medicare by allowing seniors to choose from many private health plans toward which the government would pay a fixed amount. While this "premium support model" is favored by 82 percent of Americans under age 65, only 60 percent of seniors support this type of reform.

The survey was co-sponsored by the EBRI, the Consumer Health Education Council (CHEC), and Mathew Greenwald & Associates, a leading market research company.

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