January 21, 2016
Seniors Vulnerable to Drug Price Spikes
Total U.S. spending on prescription drugs by individuals, insurers and governments jumped 13 percent last year – the largest increase since 2001. One in four Americans report having difficulty paying for medications.
Older Americans are somewhat shielded from the full impact of rising drug prices by Medicare’s Part D program, which greatly expanded their coverage. Since Part D’s implementation in 2006, seniors’ average out-of-pocket spending on medications has actually declined, from $708 to $564 annually in 2012.
But a recent trend of price spikes for specialty drugs might be a snake in the grass for seniors on fixed incomes. Since most take multiple prescriptions, they face greater odds of needing at least one of these expensive medicines.
Drug cost stability for seniors “is starting to reverse as newer specialty drugs come into the marketplace,” said Juliette Cubanski, a senior Medicare policy researcher for the Kaiser Family Foundation. Part D plans “are covering these drugs and people are taking them, but the costs are going up.”
They include new breakthrough drugs that cure – rather than just treat – Hepatitis C, as well as medications for rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. Kaiser estimates that a senior who takes one of the 12 specialty drugs it analyzed can pay anywhere from $4,400 to $12,000 per year out of their own pockets, even after taking into account Part D’s subsidies. …Learn More
December 22, 2015
Readers’ Picks in 2015
Squared Away readers should know this ritual by now. We consult Google Analytics to determine the articles with the most reader traffic over the past year.
This blog covers everything from student loans to helping low-income people improve their lot. But this year’s Top 10 was dominated by one topic: retirement.
Readers’ favorites are listed in order of their popularity, with links to each individual blog:
- Navigating Retirement Taxes
- Medicare Primer: Advantage or Medigap?
- Why I Dropped My Financial Adviser
- The Future of Retirement is Now
- Annuities: Useful but Little Understood
- Winging it in Retirement?
- Fewer Need Long-Term Care
- Misconceptions about Social Security
- Late Career Job Changes Reduce Stress
- Mortgage Payoff: Freedom versus the Math
To stay current on our Squared Away blog in 2016, we invite you to join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here. Learn More
December 10, 2015
How Couples Deplete Retirement Savings
Americans who save for retirement throughout their working lives often hold tight to that savings after they retire. A new study shows they eventually do spend much of this money and sheds light on where it goes.
The study focuses on the retirement spending patterns of couples, adding to similar past studies on single retirees. While both spouses are alive, the researchers found that a couple’s wealth remains relatively stable over time – until they start paying for medical care, nursing homes, and other major end-of-life expenses.
The researchers examined spending patterns for more than 4,600 households over a 15-year period using a subset of the Health and Retirement Study that collects data on the health and wealth of people over age 70. Wealth included savings and retirement accounts, investments, and home equity.
Couples in two different income groups were compared: the average couple at the 20th percentile has about $14,000 in post-retirement income and $70,000 in wealth at age 74; the 80th percentile couple has more than $30,000 in income and $330,000 in wealth.
Here are the study’s main findings:
November 17, 2015
Long-term Care Policyholders Who Lapse
In an upside-down aspect of long-term care insurance, about one in four older people with a policy who eventually go into a nursing home had let that policy lapse sometime in the previous four years, forfeiting coverage that would’ve paid for their care.
The questions are who does this and why.
New research by the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) finds two explanations for why: a scarcity of financial resources and cognitive impairment, which limits the elderly’s ability to properly manage their finances, including their long-term care policies.
The researchers found no support for what they call “strategic lapsing” – a deliberate decision to quit paying the premiums by healthy older individuals who, upon reconsideration, conclude that their risk of needing care in the future is low. …Learn More
October 27, 2015
Health Insurance Costs Squeeze 401ks?
U.S. workers’ wages, adjusted for inflation, are stagnating, but their share of health care costs keeps going up.
“Something has got to give, right? That something could very well be the 401(k) or 403(b) plan,” said Mark Zoril, a personal financial planner and benefits adviser to small companies.
Six in 10 workers agreed: the rising cost of their health insurance “directly affects” how much they set aside in their retirement savings plan at work, according to a new survey gauging the “financial stress” of more than 2,000 full-time employees with health coverage. The random survey was conducted by LIMRA, a financial services research organization.
Despite a slowdown in medical inflation, employees are paying a growing share of the tab for their health care. Average total premiums for family coverage under U.S. employer health plans rose 61 percent between 2005 and 2015, for example, but the employee’s share of the premium increased 83 percent to $4,995, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual report. Two out of three individual workers today pay deductibles of at least $1,000, up from 16 percent a decade ago.
Anita Potter, LIMRA’s senior vice president of research, said workplace benefits face increasing competition for workers’ limited resources. …Learn More
October 15, 2015
High-deductible Health Plans on the Rise
Health insurance is really starting to hurt.
Premium increases and deductible creep, documented in the Kaiser Family Foundation’s comprehensive annual survey of employer health benefits, are eye-popping figures. Although there has been a slowdown in medical inflation and health care spending overall, the growing prominence of high-deductible plans is evidence that more of these costs are shifting to employees.
- One in four workers today is enrolled in a health insurance plan with a high deductible – up from 4 percent a decade ago – exposing them to larger out-of-pocket expenses than traditional health plans if they become ill. [Kaiser’s definition of high-deductible plans is that they are accompanied by a tax-preferred savings plan to help workers pay their medical bills.]
- These deductibles average around $2,000 for single coverage, but they exceed $3,000 for about 20 percent of single workers. Deductibles average $4,350 for a family plan, but nearly 20 percent face deductibles exceeding $6,000.
- Average annual premiums for single workers in these plans range from $773 to $1,021, while family plan premiums are $3,660 to $4,407.
- Everyone’s deductibles are rising much faster than premiums. For example, the share of the annual premium paid by all single workers with health coverage has increased 19 percent since 2010, to $1,071. But their deductibles have risen 67 percent, to $1,077.
- Retiree health care trends, in contrast, might be stabilizing. Since 2009, the share of larger companies offering the coverage to retirees has bounced around between 23 percent and 28 percent.
Employers are also paying more for annual premiums, according to Kaiser – about $1,000 more per single worker than they paid in 2010 and about $2,800 more for a family plan.
But it’s clear from the data that this shared burden falls heavily on employees.
To stay current on our Squared Away blog, we invite you to join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here. Learn More
October 13, 2015
Free Help Navigating the Medicare Maze
HICAP, SHIP, SHINE – whatever your state calls the program, the mission is an urgent one.
With some 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, these programs help new enrollees grapple with their Medicare options and make decisions, especially during open enrollment, which begins on Thursday and ends Dec. 7.
Medicare is “confusing” to boomers, because they “have more than one option, and most of us, when we were working, had only the PPO or the HMO” to choose between, said Christina Dimas-Kahn, program manager and a telephone counselor in San Mateo County, California’s Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP).
The top requests for assistance coming into her office are from new enrollees to Medicare, followed by the elderly who can’t afford their medications, messy billing problems between Medicare and health providers, and questions about long-term care and how to pay for it, she said.
The primary goal is “education and empowering you to enroll yourself,” said Joshua Hodges, who oversees the programs for the U.S. Administration for Community Living (ACL), which funds them. Their “beneficiary focus” has become even more crucial, he said, since the advent of Advantage managed-care plans, which complicate the choices faced by Medicare beneficiaries.
Click here for a state-by-state directory of State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (or SHIPs) – their official name. SHIPs are also available to residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Washington DC. …Learn More