Medicare is a study in contrasts. In its financing, the program is modeled as what health wonks call “social insurance,” which in reality is a euphemism for a politically effective but fiscally troubling mix of social welfare, health insurance, and cross-generational income transfers. Limited in coverage, slow to add coverage of new technologies, and often high in cost sharing, Medicare often cost-shifts to state Medicaid programs. While relatively cheap for the government to administer, Medicare is astonishingly complex, placing providers, supplies, health plans, and patients under a mountain of red tape.

In Medicare: A Policy Primer, Dr. Marilyn Moon – a respected researcher, former Medicare trustee, and one of the nation’s leading Medicare policy gurus – “explains what Medicare is, how it works, and where is it headed.” In this excellent introduction, Dr. Moon outlines the history of Medicare, taking readers from the program’s origins in 1965 and the Great Society to today. The Medicare primer also walks readers through how the massive $370 billion program works in relation to the rest of the U.S. health care system and other federal programs.

While Dr. Moon is an unrepentant fan of Medicare and takes a decidedly Liberal, pro-entitlement approach to health policy, she takes pains to provide a thoughtful, balanced discussion of Medicare’s key strengths and failings. She also debunks some lingering myths and assesses several of the more popular Medicare reform options.

Marilyn Moon, Ph.D. is currently vice president and director of the health program at the American Institutes for Research.

Published by Urban Institute Press, Medicare: A Policy Primer is available on Amazon.com here or direct from Urban Institute Press.

To learn more about Medicare, please check out my list of recommended Medicare books.