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Seniors’ health costs continue climb

Even before the ink was dry on a federal tax cut that will liberally swell the federal debt, some of the same politicians who supported that measure were talking about the need to reduce Medicare and other parts of the health care safety net.

Cutting Medicare benefits would inflict real pain on the nation’s seniors, especially those trying to cope with higher health care costs on fixed incomes.

Medicare is a federal insurance program created in the 1960s to help Americans older than 65, as well as younger citizens with disabilities, cover their health care costs. But it is not a free ride, as a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation reminds us.

“Many people on Medicare incur relatively high out-of-pocket costs for their health care, including premiums, deductibles, cost sharing for Medicare-covered services, as well as spending on services not covered by Medicare, such as long-term services and supports and dental care,” Kaiser noted.

The new Kaiser research shows that, on average, Medicare beneficiaries are already spending about 41 percent of their Social Security income on out-of-pocket health care costs. By 2030, that’s expected to rise to 50 percent. Medical needs take an even bigger bite out of the Social Security checks of women and those older than 85, Kaiser found.

Of course, many Medicare recipients have sources of income beyond Social Security, such as pensions, part-time jobs or investments.

But increases in health care costs may be outstripping those, as well. In 2013, Kaiser found, half of Medicare beneficiaries spent about 14 percent of their total income on health care. “By 2030,” Kaiser reported, “more than 4 in 10 (42 percent) of traditional Medicare beneficiaries are projected to spend at least 20 percent of their total income on health-related out-of-pocket costs.”

The Kaiser research suggests the burden may be heavier for those with lower incomes or significant medical needs.

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