This project uses original expert interviews and reporting as well as unique statistics and infographics to inform readers about out-of-pocket spending among Medicare beneficiaries and explain how the costs are expected to change and increase in the future.
A Medicare beneficiary shares her story of how she has been negatively impacted by rising healthcare costs. While a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid representative offers insight into the federal government’s future financial challenge of keeping the Medicare program solvent.
The project examines significant policy proposals, legislative and advocacy efforts, and rule changes that may impact future out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries.
Through this project, we armed Medicare beneficiaries with current and accurate information about factors that affect their healthcare costs. We took complex data, centralized it and made it accessible to everyone. We connected readers with Medicare experts and resources that could help them find affordable healthcare options.
We used Ahrefs and Semrush to gauge interest in the topic before beginning the project. We found a healthy amount of activity around costs of medicare that signaled user interest in the topic. For example, “how much is medicare going up in 2021” had an average of 320 searches per month, per Semrush.
From there, we did what we do best: ethical journalism. We gathered reports and research, interviewed experts and beneficiaries, and conceptualized a design that would enhance the user experience.
We used animation and created graphics, charts, tables and images to engage readers and display our reporting in a unique way. We incorporated an anecdote about a beneficiary and a Q&A with a health policy expert to make the topic relatable and accessible.
We promoted the project on social media through paid efforts, garnering 72,258 total impressions and 18 notable shares following publication.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Analyzing raw data from the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS) proved to be our biggest challenge. The MCBS includes data for thousands of people interviewed, organized only by abbreviations and codes. A MCBS Chartbook provides some graphs and tables for certain statistics; however, only a few applied to our out-of-pocket focus and the ones that did were mostly inconsistent. To take in the data, decode it, and use it to generate accurate new reports required more skill sets, training, and software and tools than we had available. We pivoted our approach to rely more heavily on synthesizing existing reports and conducting original interviews with experts who could provide unique insight, including a Medicare policy analyst and a representative from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Another challenge was finding a Medicare beneficiary who would go on record about the cost-sharing burden on beneficiaries. We believed strongly in the importance of humanizing this issue and ultimately included an interview with a beneficiary who struggled for months to afford her prescription drugs with Medicare. We also incorporated information from the MCBS Chartbook when relevant and accurate.
What can others learn from this project?
The RetireGuide website first launched in May 2020, and this project was the first of its kind for this brand. With our newly assembled, lean team and our limited data-analysis capabilities, we were resolute and resourceful in our approach to providing a comprehensive, data-driven analysis of Medicare costs and why beneficiaries may pay increasingly more for healthcare. Other journalists can learn from this piece ways to synthesize and bolster existing data with fresh insights from authoritative sources and poignant storytelling to create an original, digestible and valuable resource for readers.