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Medicare's great by U.S. standards. Compared to others, not so much.

(NBC) - Medicare, the crown jewel of the U.S. health care system, looks pretty tarnished when compared with what other countries offer seniors, according to a report released Wednesday.

Researchers at the Commonwealth Fund interviewed nearly 23,000 people 65 and older in 11 countries to see what kind of medical care they get.

“Overall, U.S. seniors are worse off than their counterparts in the other 10 nations,” said Robin Osborn, vice president of the Commonwealth Fund.

“They are the sickest, most likely not to be able to afford needed health care and to struggle to have basic needs like food and housing met,” she added in a telephone briefing.

“In the other countries, which have universal coverage, seniors face lower cost sharing and have the benefit of a stronger safety net. ”

“In the Netherlands, 90 percent of doctors make house calls to the elderly.”

The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation, does regular research comparing the U.S. health care system to those in other countries and routinely finds people in the U.S. pay far more per person for care, while being sicker on average — and are more unhappy about it.

The team decided to look at Medicare, which is overwhelmingly popular among voters and which is the main source of health insurance for 55 million people 65 and over.

“We know that Medicare is the most popular program in the United States in terms of the satisfaction of the population covered,” said the Commonwealth Fund president, Dr. David Blumenthal."

“We also know the contentment is there despite the fact that a quarter of patients on Medicare in the United States are underinsured.”

It all sounds familiar to Dr. Peter Lipson, an internal medicine specialist in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

“We have crappy outcomes for a huge price tag,” Lipson added. “We do all kinds of stuff that doesn’t really work that’s expensive. We are wasting a ton of money and probably not helping people.”

Many Americans may not understand that Medicare is not free, Lipson added. Its many different offerings are difficult to navigate.

“I have patients looking at their plans for next year. Should they do Medicare Advantage? Should they do Medicare plus another plan? Should they do the Medicare included drug plan or should they do a Part D plan? It’s a zoo,” he said.


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