Medicare Growth: What’s the story behind the story?

Another data visualization assignment:

By Kevin R. Convey, Catherine Featherston and Corrie Lacey

The subject of Medicare and how it should be funded going forward was a major point of contention in the just-ended presidential campaign – and is a significant part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations now underway.

Indeed, Medicare is one of three major federal entitlements now amounting to 10 percent of GDP and threatening to double to 20 percent by 2050 if no changes are made – creating what some have called an “untenable debt burden”.

But to understand where we’re going, it may help to understand where we’ve been.

First, take a look at the number of Medicare recipients by state:

Next, look at the surprisingly steep increase in the number of disabled persons receiving Medicare. The program was revised in 1973 to include them as well as the elderly:

But when you compare the number of disabled receiving Medicare to the number of elderly in the program since 1973, it becomes clear that the increase in elderly recipients is driving the growth of the program — not the disabled:

The data make it clear that tinkering with the categories of people who receive Medicare isn’t going help solve the current funding crisis — only a change in the level of benefits provided or the way in which they are provided will have any impact.

Medicare trends