Comparison of performance of traditional Medicare vs Medicare managed care

JAMA. 2004 Apr 14;291(14):1744-52. doi: 10.1001/jama.291.14.1744.


Context: Since 2000, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has been collecting information on beneficiaries' experiences with health care for Medicare managed care (MMC) and traditional fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare.

Objectives: To compare beneficiary experiences with managed care and FFS arrangements throughout the country and to assess the stability of those differences over time.

Design, setting, and participants: CMS administered managed care and FFS versions of the Consumer Assessment of Health Plans Study (CAHPS) survey to samples of beneficiaries (aged > or =65 years) from Medicare + Choice MMC organizations and from geographic strata within the traditional FFS Medicare program. We analyzed responses collected in 2000 and 2001 from 497,869 respondents: 299,058 beneficiaries enrolled in MMC plans (response rate, 82%) and 198,811 enrolled in FFS Medicare (response rate, 68%). Differences between MMC and FFS within states were assessed after adjustment for case mix and nonresponse. For estimates at the regional and national level, state estimates were combined after weighting by the MMC enrollment in the state.

Main outcome measures: Four overall ratings (of the plan, personal physician, care received overall, and care received from specialists), 5 measures summarizing beneficiaries' experiences with care (getting care needed; getting care quickly; communication with clinicians; courtesy and respect of physician's office staff; and paperwork, information, and customer service), and reports of receipt of 3 preventive services (flu shots, pneumococcal vaccinations, and being advised to quit smoking) were assessed.

Results: Respondents in MMC and FFS plans were similar to each other and to the Medicare population as a whole. Nationally, FFS Medicare beneficiaries rated experiences with care measured by the CAHPS survey higher than did MMC beneficiaries; for instance, in ratings of care received overall (scale of 1-10) (8.91 FFS vs 8.86 MMC, P<.001, in 2000; and 8.88 FFS vs 8.78 MMC, P<.001, in 2001). Differences between FFS and MMC varied across states, however. Managed care enrollees reported significantly fewer problems with paperwork, information, and customer service (2.62 FFS vs 2.55 MMC, P<.001, in 2000; and 2.59 FFS vs 2.51 MMC, P<.001, in 2001). Enrollees in MMC were also more likely to report having received immunizations for influenza and pneumococcus (from any source) (in 2000, 77% of MMC vs 63% of FFS respondents; P<.001), and smokers were more likely to report having received counseling to quit smoking.

Conclusions: Our data suggest that managed care was better at delivering preventive services, whereas traditional Medicare was better in other aspects of care related to access and beneficiary experiences. These relative strengths should be considered when policy decisions are made that affect the availability of choice or influence beneficiaries to choose one model of care over another.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Fee-for-Service Plans / standards*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Managed Care Programs / standards*
  • Medicare / organization & administration*
  • Medicare / standards
  • Models, Organizational
  • Patient Satisfaction / statistics & numerical data*
  • Preventive Medicine
  • Process Assessment, Health Care*
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care
  • Risk Adjustment
  • United States