Americans Unaware of Medicare Eligibility Age

July 27, 2001
Danny Devine
(202) 775-6308, EBRI
Paul Fronstin
(202) 775-6352, EBRI

WASHINGTON, DC—A third of Americans don't know when they will be eligible for Medicare, the nation's health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, according to preliminary results of new research by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), Consumer Health Education Council (CHEC), and Mathew Greenwald & Associates.

This month marks the 35th anniversary of the implementation of the Medicare program. In light of this anniversary and the focus placed on the program by the Bush administration and Congress, EBRI has released a fact sheet of Medicare findings from the 2001 Health Confidence Survey (HCS), which is currently available at EBRI's Web site, The full HCS survey results will be released in full this fall. The findings are grouped into four general topic areas: awareness, confidence, satisfaction, and reform:

  • Awareness of Eligibility Age—Many Americans do not know at what age they will be eligible for Medicare benefits. Most Americans become eligible for Medicare at age 65 (approximately 15 percent of beneficiaries become eligible by reason of a disability or specific disease, rather than age). The eligibility age has remained constant since 1965, when the program was established; however, only 38 percent of Americans said they would be eligible for Medicare at age 65, while one-third (32 percent) said they didn't know (see attached chart).

  • Confidence in Health Care—American seniors (those age 65 and older) are more concerned than Americans under age 65 about their ability to afford prescription drugs, both today and during the next 10 years, and prescription drugs are also their biggest concern. A third of seniors are not confident that they are able to afford prescription drugs today, and 41 percent of them are not confident that they will be able to afford prescription drugs in the next 10 years.

  • Satisfaction With Health Care Received—The Medicare population is much more satisfied with various aspects of health care services received during the past two years than is the population under age 65. Only 5 percent of Americans ages 65 and older were not satisfied with their ability to choose their doctor or to get referrals to specialists; among those under age 65, 19 percent were not satisfied with their choice of doctors, and 17 percent were not satisfied with referrals. Seniors also are more satisfied with health care costs, both the cost of health insurance and the costs of services not covered by insurance.

  • Support for Medicare Reform—In the effort to preserve Medicare for future generations, several different remedies have been proposed, including raising the eligibility age, using the federal budget surplus, reducing payments to providers, increasing payroll taxes on workers, requiring seniors above a certain income level to pay higher premiums, increasing copays and deductibles, and setting the government's contribution at a fixed amount and letting seniors choose from a variety of private health plans (known as "premium support"). Americans of all ages strongly favor a premium support arrangement or using the budget surplus to help pay some of Medicare's costs. More than three-fourths of Americans supported each of these ideas. The Medicare population generally shows less support for reforming the program. Among those age 65 and older, the most favored options were the same as those for all Americans, but with a smaller proportion in support: 71 percent in favor of using the budget surplus and 60 percent in favor of a premium support model.

"The results of this survey show that American seniors are largely satisfied with the health care they have received, but they are concerned about being able to afford prescription drugs, both now and in the future," said EBRI President Dallas Salisbury. "While many Americans are unaware when they will qualify for Medicare, support is low for making changes in program eligibility and costs, and high for using the budget surplus or a premium support model to help finance the program."

These findings are part of the fourth annual Health Confidence Survey (HCS), a survey that examines a broad spectrum of health care issues, including Americans' satisfaction with health care today, their confidence in the future of the health care system and Medicare, and their attitudes toward health care reform. Full results of the HCS will be released this fall. HCS materials and a list of underwriters may be accessed at the EBRI Web site:


EBRI is a private, nonprofit, public policy research organization based in Washington, DC. Founded in 1978, its mission is to contribute to, to encourage, and to enhance the development of sound public policy through objective research and education. EBRI does not lobby and does not take positions on legislative proposals.

CHEC is part of the Employee Benefit Research Institute Education and Research Fund (EBRI-ERF), a 501(c) (3) organization. Like its parent organization, CHEC is a nonpartisan group that does not lobby and does not take positions on specific policy proposals.

Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc. is a full-service market research company with an expertise in financial services research. Founded in 1985, Greenwald & Associates has conducted public opinion and customer-oriented research for more than 100 organizations, including many of the nation's largest companies and foremost associations.

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