The six major government health care programs serve older persons, persons with disabilities, low-income mothers and children, veterans, active-duty military personnel and their dependents, and Native Americans. Three of these programs—Medicare, Medicaid, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)—were devised for groups for whom the health care market has historically failed to work because of their high health care needs and low socioeconomic status. The remaining three programs—DOD TRICARE, VHA, and IHS—serve particular populations with whom the federal government has a special relationship, respectively, military personnel and their dependents, veterans, and Native Americans.

Many millions of Americans receive services through multiple government programs simultaneously. Low-income Medicare beneficiaries who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid account for 17 percent of the Medicare population and 19 percent of the Medicaid population (Gluck and Hanson, 2001; Health Care Financing Administration, 2000). These “dual eligibles” account for a total of 28 percent of Medicare expenditures and 35 percent of Medicaid expenditures. Native Americans eligible to receive services through IHS may also qualify for Medicaid if they satisfy income and other eligibility requirements, and those aged 65 and older may qualify for Medicare. Nearly 45 percent of veterans are 65 years and older and also qualify for Medicare (Van Diepen, 2001b). In addition, many Americans eligible for these programs have private supplemental insurance as well. Thus, patients and clinicians would surely benefit from greater consistency in quality enhancement requirements, measures, and processes across public and private insurance programs.

Table 2-1 provides a capsule summary of the six government health care programs. A more detailed description of the programs is provided in the following section. The broad trends affecting the needs and expectations of the programs’ beneficiaries are then reviewed. The final section examines some key features of the programs beyond their quality enhancement processes.

MEDICARE1

Medicare provides health insurance to all individuals eligible for social security who are aged 65 and over, those eligible for social security because of a disability, and those suffering from end-stage renal disease (ESRD)—a total of about 40 million beneficiaries and growing. While

1  

Unless otherwise indicated, data in this section are based on Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 1998, 2000c.



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