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High healthcare costs strain US seniors

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-12-01 13:35

The exorbitant cost of healthcare for older people in the United States is causing some to avoid going to the hospital over fears that it will deplete their savings or cause financial hardship for themselves and their families.

The number of Americans age 65 and older who were concerned that they wouldn't be able to pay for vital healthcare services in 2023 was 37 percent, according to a study by Gallup and the West Health Group, a nonprofit. Around 6.5 million people over 65 admit that they have put off seeking treatment due to the cost.

Doreen Ferraro, 71, from New York, decided not to have back surgery over fears it would use up all her savings.

"I was supposed to have back surgery, but I found out that the co-pay for the hospital was $350. That would wipe out any savings I have completely. So, I haven't had the surgery done, and I have great pain when I stand up," she said in the Gallup study.

By 2050, the number of Americans age 65 and older will increase by 50 percent to 86 million, according to US Census estimates. Another 19 million people will be age 85 and over, according to The New York Times.

Older Asian Americans make up 4.6 percent of the US senior population, according to the Administration for Community Living, a part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. By 2060, that number will rise to 8 percent, and there will be an estimated 1.3 million Asians age 85 and older.

While many Asian communities have a tradition of looking after their elders themselves, some, along with a large swath of the rest of the US population will need to pay for home care, a nursing home or a hospice for end-of-life care.

Medicare, a federal health insurance program for those age 65 and over, pays for anyone eligible who needs to stay in a nursing home temporarily after surgery or those who need a home health aide.

Medicaid, another federal-state program, helps those who have low incomes if they need long-term care in a nursing home. Those who are middle class qualify only if they have no assets or limited assets.

In nursing homes, those who stay long term can spend $100,000 per year if they have no Medicaid coverage. The average age of a nursing home resident is 77.

Many of the assisted-living facilities are for-profit and cost around $54,000 per year, according to Genworth, an insurance company. At least 850,000 people age 65 and older live in such properties.

Several other options exist for the middle class to pay for healthcare, including private insurance if they aren't eligible for Medicare or Medicaid. A $165,000 private policy would pay out $2,500 per year for a man age 60, the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance found.

For those who can afford it, hiring a home health aide to look after them is a popular alternative. An aide who works for seven hours or more a day can cost $27 an hour, or $60,000 a year, according to Genworth.

Federal research shows that long-term care for the baby boomer generation will cost approximately half a trillion dollars. Around 10,000 boomers will turn 65 every day until 2030, according to the Census.

The government spent $900.8 billion on Medicare in 2021, 21 percent of all the country's national health care expenditure, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Medicaid, another federal-state program costs $747 billion, around 12 percent of the federal government's spending.

In 2021, ‘national health expenditure data grew 2.7 percent to $4.3 trillion in 2021, or $12,914 for each person and was 18.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)' according to The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

But the US spends much less of its entire gross domestic product on long term care which helps its seniors.

To change that, President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law last year, which lowers drug prices and reforms the cost of health insurance.

By 2025, the law will cap the total out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors on Medicare at $2,000 a year. It comes as 1 in 4 adults admit not taking their medication as prescribed due to cost, according to the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan policy institute.

Lawana Baugus, 61, who lives in Missouri, fears that she or her husband will get sick.

"I live under constant worry that one of us is going to have to go to the hospital. And we just don't have the money to pay … or make payments. So, we hesitate to even go to the hospital for anything," she said in the Gallup study.

Seniors who are not able to manage the cost of healthcare along with their rent or mortgage can face temporary or long-term homelessness, warns a growing number of homeless shelters.

At least 250,000 seniors were homeless at some point in 2019, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"The numbers [of homeless baby boomers] are increasing," Lisa Glow, chief executive of Arizona's largest homeless center, the Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) told China Daily.

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