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Medicare and Medicaid, Age and Income

Tue Sep 17 2013
Jennifer Cheeseman Day
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Today, the Census Bureau released new statistics on the percentages of people receiving health insurance coverage. The report shows that 15.7 percent of people were covered by Medicare and 16.4 percent by Medicaid last year.

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Medicare and Medicaid are often confused. In general, Medicare is health insurance coverage for people 65 and older, or for people under 65 with disabilities; whereas, Medicaid is health insurance coverage for low-income people.

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When the Census Bureau started measuring participation in these two programs with the Current Population Survey in 1987, the percentage of people with Medicare outnumbered the percentage with Medicaid.  However, since the economic downturn, more people have relied on Medicaid for their health insurance, for the fourth year in a row, than for Medicare.

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Yet, this trend masks a great deal of variation between race and Hispanic origin groups.  As the figures show, the non-Hispanic white population is the only group that participates more in Medicare than Medicaid.  Given that to be eligible for Medicare, participants must be 65 and older, one of the biggest reasons for this is the different age distributions among these groups, and the non-Hispanic white population is much older than the other groups. For instance, in 2012, 17 percent of non-Hispanic whites were 65 and older compared with 10 percent of blacks, 10 percent of Asians and 6 percent of Hispanics. Moreover, with the large non-Hispanic white baby-boom population now starting to enter the Medicare-eligible age group, higher Medicare coverage rates for non-Hispanic whites will continue for some time.

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At the same time, disparities in income levels among the race and Hispanic origin groups reveal different rates of Medicaid eligibility. In 2012, 10 percent of non-Hispanic whites were in poverty compared with 27 percent of blacks, 12 percent of Asians and 26 percent of Hispanics.  Medicaid health insurance coverage rates may increase in the future due to changes in public policy that extend coverage to those in higher income groups.

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To see more about the Census Bureau statistics on health insurance:

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