Translating the Complexities of Medicare Into Plain English

Medicare primer for the public, media and policy-makers

In 2000, the Concord Coalition, Arlington, Va., finalized, printed and distributed A Primer on Medicare for the public, the media, and policymakers.

Founded in 1992 by the late former Senator Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.), former Senator Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Peter Peterson, the Coalition is a nonpartisan organization advocating federal spending constraints while ensuring Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid remain secure.

It has chapters in 50 states and nearly all congressional districts, and approximately 200,000 supporters nationwide. In February 2000, the Coalition had a draft of the Primer that presented a non-partisan review of a twofold dilemma facing Medicare, i.e.:

  • Medicare costs are growing faster than the overall economy and the payroll taxes and abilities of many elderly citizens to pay premiums to help support the program.
  • The Medicare insurance package is out of date compared to health insurance coverage available to most working-age Americans.

The document explained in layman's terms how Medicare works, outlined the problems ahead, and presented and analyzed some of the possible reform options. It also answered many of the most frequently asked questions about both Medicare and Medicare reform.

Key Results:

  • Under this grant, the Coalition updated the draft to incorporate recent changes in cost projections made by the Congressional Budget Office and the Medicare Trustees, and refined its format. The revised primer summarizes the basic requirements for keeping Medicare costs down as some combination of the following:
    • Reducing the number of people eligible for the program.
    • Increasing how much participants pay (for either insurance or medical care).
    • Reducing total program costs per beneficiary.

    The primer further suggests that Medicare will require additional revenues both to cover cost overruns and to respond to pressures to expand or add program coverage for prescription drugs, catastrophic expenses, and long-term care. The Coalition provided in-kind support for the project.
  • In July 2000 the Coalition printed 10,000 copies of its 54-page primer, and began its distribution through its national and regional offices.
  • Dissemination efforts focused on Coalition members and events, conferences and conventions in which the Coalition participated (including both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 2000), meetings with members of the media and with congressional leaders, the academic community, and others interested in Medicare policy.

    Local radio and television stations, including regional broadcasts of National Public Radio, used the primer for talk show discussions on Medicare issues, and Coalition representatives presented the information at 13 local or regional conferences.

The Coalition had planned to make the Medicare primer a centerpiece of a series of seminars and forums on Medicare reform, but a shift in the nation's political focus away from Medicare reform toward prescription drug coverage during the 2000 presidential campaign prevented this initiative from moving forward.

The Concord Coalition continues to distribute the primer. While currently the Coalition is focusing on the budget choices facing the nation following the terrorist attacks on the U.S., the organization is planning another updated edition of the Medicare primer and will seek funding for production and distribution.