Public Perception Clouds Future Reductions in Medicare Spending

An article published by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) discussed the underlying beliefs that may help shape public response to future efforts to slow down projected Medicare spending. The article theorized that there is a huge gap in what experts believe about the financial state of Medicare and what the public believes, and how these differences will impact the way politicians address this issue. The article concluded with two key points. First, it would help in the long-term resolution of issues related to Medicare spending if there was a nonpartisan, broad-based public education campaign that focused on how Medicare works financially. Second, it would be beneficial if discussions about the financial sustainability of Medicare could be separated from public debates over reducing budget deficits or enacting tax cuts.

The NEJM article’s findings were presented around five issues: (1) public views about Medicare spending and the budget deficit; (2) perceptions on the performance of Medicare; (3) perceived reasons for the rising costs of Medicare; (4) views about the future of Medicare; and (5) implications of these beliefs for future elections. The findings were grouped to account for generational differences, and the data was presented for the total adult population and for four commonly used age groups – 18-29, 30-49, 50-64, and 65 years and older.

Some of the article’s findings included many Americans are unaware that Medicare spending is one of the largest items in the federal budget; and Medicare is popular among 72 percent of Americans, particularly 90 percent of seniors who view the program favorably. The article noted that although Medicare spending has slowed down in the past five years, 62 percent of Americans believe Medicare spending is rising faster than ever. This belief, however, generates only small support to reduce Medicare spending in order to reduce the deficit. The three reasons people cited most often for the rising costs in Medicare include: poor management by the government of Medicare, fraud and abuse in the health sector, and excessive charges by hospitals.

Further, the article indicated that the public will support a reduction in Medicare spending if it will improve the long-term financial position of the program but the public will not support a reduction in Medicare spending to reduce help the federal deficit or pay for any tax cuts. Also, a majority of the public believes the program will run out of funds in the next 15 years and many expect this will cause serious consequences for Medicare beneficiaries. Finally, Medicare spending is a political issue and candidates who favor major cuts in Medicare spending to reduce the federal budget deficit may face political backlash from their constituents, including older voters, those 50 and older, who acknowledged they would not support a candidate who takes that position.