The sky ain’t falling, Medicare edition

I feel like I’m becoming a broken record here, because I keep writing the same piece over and over. Sure, the flavor and the focus changes, but the message is consistent. It’s this: people are pointing out anecdotes to show why health care reform is failing, while ignoring the fact that if you avoid cherry picking, it’s doing just fine.

This Sunday, the NYT editorial page decided to help. This is from an op-ed on Medicare:

In the critics’ most dire scenarios, baby boomers nearing retirement age could find that their current doctors are no longer willing to treat them under Medicare and that other doctors are turning them down as well. Those concerns have always been greatly exaggerated. Now a new analysis by experts at the Department of Health and Human Services should demolish that mythology for good.

The analysts looked at seven years of federal survey data and found that doctors are not fleeing Medicare in droves; in fact, the percentage of doctors accepting new Medicare patients actually rose to 90.7 percent in 2012 from 87.9 percent in 2005. They are not shunning Medicare patients for better-paying private patients, either; the percentage of doctors accepting new Medicare patients in recent years was slightly higher than the percentage accepting new privately insured patients.

You have to have been living under a rock not to have heard that ANY DAY NOW doctors are going to rise up en masse and refuse to see patients with Medicare. You’ve probably read a nice quote or two from some physicians who can no longer “make ends meet” and is throwing in the towel. But the data, those that describe the whole picture, just don’t fit that narrative.

You can cherry pick, and focus on the doctors who opt out. You can interview them, highlight them, and scream about all 9500 of them. Of course, that means you’re profiling the 1% of Medicare-eligible physicians who have opted out, while ignoring the 99% who remain in the program.

As always, many ignore the counter-factual:

Medicare patients had comparable or better access to medical services than the access reported by privately insured individuals ages 50 to 64, who are just below the age for Medicare eligibility. Surveys sponsored by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent agency that advises Congress, found that 77 percent of the Medicare patients — compared with only 72 percent of privately insured patients — said they never had an unreasonably long wait for a routine doctor’s appointment last year.

“Medicare’s access is horrible!” they shout. But they don’t tell you that private insurance is worse.


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