Chart of the Day: Public Ignorance About Medicare is Really, Really High


Here’s your Medicare myth of the day: It turns out that a majority of Americans believe that retirees get about as much from Medicare as they pay in during their lifetimes. Or maybe even less.

As it turns out, this is precisely the opposite of the truth. The best estimate out there suggests that a single male will pay $60,000 in Medicare taxes over his lifetime and receive $170,000 in benefits during retirement.1 That’s a 3:1 benefit ratio—and the numbers are more favorable for women and way more favorable for couples. Medicare is just about the most amazing bargain imaginable. Most of us don’t come within a country mile of actually paying for all the care we get.

It also turns out that when you ask people why Medicare costs are rising, they rate fraud and poor management at the top and new technology at the bottom. The truth, again, is just the opposite. Medicare has some fraud problems, but they’re fairly modest. It’s basically a pretty well managed program. New drugs and new treatments, however, are responsible for nearly half of the increase in Medicare costs over the past few decades. It’s the #1 cost driver by a ton. Adrianna McIntyre has the details here.

What this shows, once again, is the power of right-wing ideas in American discourse. After years of misleading the public about death panels and waste and taxes, the public pretty much believes it. Medicare isn’t welfare; we paid for it! Costs aren’t rising because we all insist on the latest and greatest treatments even if they don’t work; it’s lousy management! Welcome to conservo-land.

1Since this always comes up: yes, this is adjusted for inflation and investment returns. From the report: “The ‘lifetime value of taxes’ is based upon the value of accumulated taxes, as if those taxes were put into an account that earned a 2 percent real rate of return (that is, 2 percent plus inflation). The ‘lifetime value of benefits’ represents the amount needed in an account (also earning a 2 percent real interest rate) to pay for those benefits.”

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.