U.S. Health Costs Erode Care

Article excerpt

Commonwealth Fund Study

A new survey of adults in the United States ages 50 to 70 shows that older Americans are so unsettled about their vulnerability to escalating health costs that 69% would be willing to have 1% of their earnings deducted from their paychecks and placed into a Medicare account to pay for long-term care or other expenses that are not covered by Medicare. The survey, titled "Will You Still Need Me? The Health and Financial Security of Older Americans," by Sara R. Collins and colleagues of The Commonwealth Fund, in New York City, also found that 73% of survey participants ages 50 to 64 support policies that would allow them to buy into Medicare before age 65.

"On average, older adults have high rates of chronic disease and high out-of-pocket medical spending," note the authors. "Rising out-of-pocket health costs, sluggish wage growth and erosion of retiree health benefits threaten older adults' ability to save for retirement."

LESS PROTECTED

Older adults in the United States "are becoming less rather than better protected" by the current healthcare system, states the survey report. For example, recent U.S. Census data show that the number of uninsured adults ages 50 to 64 climbed from 5.5 million in 2000 to 6.4 million in 2003. Also, retiree health benefits plunged in recent years, with only 36% of big corporations offering them in 2004, compared with 66% in 1988. Those providing such benefits, note the researchers, "are making them less generous." The study adds that medical costs "can add up to an estimated 20% of pre-retirement income for workers who retire at age 65 without employer healthcare benefits"-and 40% for early retirees without employer coverage.

According to the survey, 24% of adults ages 50 to 70-and 57% of those uninsured-reported having failed to obtain healthcare services because of cost. …