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Survey: Older Americans feeling the sting of high health care costs

Written on Jun 24, 2022

Health care costs are becoming an increasing source of stress for older Americans, leading to some paring back on treatment, medicines or other spending on food and utilities — or skipping them altogether — to cover medical costs, according to new research conducted by Gallup. 

The survey of U.S. adults found that almost half of adults aged 50 to 64 and more than a third of adults 65 and older – nearly 50 million people – are concerned they won’t be able to pay for needed health care services in the next year. 

About 80 million adults above age 50 see health care costs as a financial burden. Becoming eligible for Medicare seems to assuage those worries slightly, however: 24% of adults aged 50 to 64, who are not yet eligible for the federal health insurance, said health costs were a major burden. That percentage fell to 15% for those aged 65 and above. 

The survey, conducted in September and October of 2021, is the latest glimpse into how health care costs in the U.S. are increasingly impacting the financial stability of Americans, especially those of retirement age who are more likely to have expensive medical needs. 

Out-of-pocket health care expenses for adults aged 65 and older increased 41% from 2009 to 2019, according to HHS data. That population spends on average almost double their total expenditures on health care costs compared with the general population, despite Medicare coverage. 

U.S. demographic shifts are an added stressor. By 2030, the percentage of Americans 65 years and older will outweigh those under the age of 18, a first in the country’s history, according to Census Bureau projections. 

The resulting stress on the Medicare program could impact benefits and cost for beneficiaries. 

“As sizable numbers of Americans 65 and older face tangible tradeoffs to pay for health care, many more Americans in the next decade will incur health and financial consequences because of high costs,” researchers wrote in the report. 

The poll also found about one in four adults aged 65 and above cut back on food, utilities, clothing or medication to cover health care costs. That’s compared to three in 10 for adults aged 50 to 64. 

Older women and Black adults were more likely to forgo basic necessities to pay for health care than other demographics. 

More than 20 million Americans aged 50 years and above said there was a time within the last three months when they or a family member was sick but didn’t seek treatment due to cost. 

More than 15 million Americans said they or a family member skipped a pill or dose of prescribed medicine in order to save money.