Researchers at Harvard Medical School have uncovered evidence that expanding Medicare may not be as costly as some policymakers contend. That’s because there is evidence that individuals who went without coverage ended up costing Medicare more than those who were continuously insured.
Harvard researchers, in a study financed by the independent Commonwealth Fund, looked at individuals who were intermittently insured between the ages of 51 and 64 and found that they cost the program $1,000 more per year than those who were continuously insured. “Providing health insurance coverage to older uninsured adults may not cost as much as previously thought,” reported study author J. Michael McWilliams, M.D.
McWilliams and his colleagues examined data from two sources, the Health and Retirement Study, a national survey of a large sample of adults, and Medicare claims data. The Health and Retirement Study tracked each survey respondent’s transition into Medicare, beginning at age 51. They divided the sample group into those who were continuously insured before becoming eligible for Medicare at age 65 and those who were not.
Researchers then examined Medicare claims data for these same individuals from ages 65 to 74, employing rigorous statistical methods to account for any variations in demographic and health characteristics before age 65. They discovered that the intermittently insured group cost an average of $5,796 versus $4,773 for the continuously insured, with two-thirds of the difference due to hospitalizations and procedures that could have been prevented or mitigated had the patients received care earlier.