Women Get Less from Workers’ Comp

Women receive less medical care for their health problems than men with the same conditions, research shows. And doctors are more likely to tell women their symptoms are emotional rather than physical.

Differential treatment for men and women also exists in another corner of the healthcare system: workers’ compensation claims.

Women injured on the job who are evaluated by female doctors are more likely to be determined to have an injury that qualifies them for workers’ comp benefits than when the doctors are men, according to Marika Cabral at the University of Texas at Austin and Marcus Dillender at Vanderbilt University.

Among the women whose injuries are under review, the evaluations performed by female doctors result in 9 percent more benefits than evaluations by male doctors.

In contrast, the likelihood of the men in the study receiving benefits and the dollar amount of their benefits are about the same regardless of whether their doctors are men or women.

The researchers said their findings are consistent with male doctors evaluating female patients against a stricter standard than male patients, while female doctors apply similar standards to all their patients.Learn More

Suburban ‘Rent Deserts’ are a Problem

Boston, a city of fewer than 1 million people, is surrounded by layers and layers of suburbs linked to the city by subways, ferries, and a commuter rail. The suburbs’ opposition to a new state law requiring them to zone some land for apartments illustrates why U.S. rental housing is scarce and rents have soared.

The sprawling town of Hamilton, with 8,000 residents, told The Boston Globe that rental housing will “destroy the well-being of our community.” Other municipalities warn their schools, infrastructure, and police and fire departments will be overwhelmed by population increases or that they don’t have enough land to accommodate multifamily rental properties.

Not all of Boston’s suburbs are opposed to building more multifamily housing. Before the state law passed, the city of Newton had already started revamping its zoning regulations to encourage more rental properties around transit stops. But three out of four of the 23,000 lots in Newton are currently zoned for single family homes.

Suburban neighborhoods around the country account for more than two-thirds of “rental deserts,” according to a report by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. The deserts are mostly white and mostly higher-income, and less than 20 percent of their housing stock is rentals, compared to a range of 50 percent to 80 percent in areas with ample rental properties. Low inventories nationwide have fueled double-digit rent increases from Idaho to Florida.

In the city of Boston, house prices have skyrocketed, so suburbs with mass transit are somewhat more affordable for lower- and middle-income workers who commute downtown to their jobs. But rental deserts, with their “not-in-my-backyard politics” are “a significant factor in limiting opportunities for rental households and for lower-income renters in particular,” the housing center said. …Learn More

New Social Security Data on Child Benefits

Stacks of research studies document the impact of Social Security’s various benefits on the adults receiving them. But little is known about the children who get Social Security checks every month.

That’s starting to change, thanks to Timothy Moore at Purdue University. To advance research on child beneficiaries, he has created a database with more than four decades of Social Security’s county-level benefit data, including digitized paper records. He combined these records with children’s existing demographic and health data and information on their parents’ employment, income, and housing situations.

Last year, Social Security paid about $3 billion to children whose parents have qualified for benefits and are retired, disabled or deceased, as well as to some adults who still receive benefits because they became disabled before turning 22.

Moore’s preliminary analyses of the county data reveal changes in the programs over time. About 43 percent of the 4 million children with Social Security benefits currently get them because a working or retired parent has died – that’s down from 58 percent in 1980. The decline makes sense in the context of dramatic increases in longevity in the retiree population.

Going in the opposite direction is the trend for children receiving benefits because a parent is disabled. Their share grew from 29 percent of all child Social Security recipients in 1980 to a peak of 43 percent during the Great Recession before dropping in recent years. This pattern mirrors the changes in the adult disability population.

The smallest group receiving benefits are the children of retirees. Their share of all child recipients has changed only slightly over the years, ranging from 11 percent to 17 percent. …Learn More

Oregon’s Retirement IRA is Making Progress

Left to their own devices, Americans who lack a retirement savings plan at work do not usually take the initiative to set up an IRA and save on their own.

Oregon lawmakers decided to do something about that, and a new study finds that their approach of requiring employers without a plan to automatically enroll their workers in a state-sponsored IRA is reaching the right people.

Nationwide, lower-income workers are much less likely to have a retirement plan, and the typical employee enrolled in the program, OregonSaves, earns only $22,600. They also tend to work in high-turnover industries like food service and healthcare where constant job changes make it difficult to save consistently. When an Oregon worker finds another job in the state, he can take his IRA with him to the next employer.

Private-sector 401(k)s with auto-enrollment match some of the workers’ contributions and have nearly universal participation. In OregonSaves, the share of people with positive account balances in their IRAs, which don’t have a match, is lower.

But these are the types of workers who don’t usually save, and the vast majority told their employers they had not been saving prior to being enrolled in OregonSaves. The program “has meaningfully increased employee savings,” concluded a new study funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.

At the end of May, the average balance in about 114,000 IRA accounts was $1,324. The employees have saved a total of $151 million.

Auto-enrollment gets these low-paid workers into the IRA. But an important reason they choose not to opt out – as they are permitted to do at any time – is that they’ve probably known they should be saving for retirement and OregonSaves made it easier. …
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Good Riddance Medicare Donut Hole!

Medicare’s donut hole is the bane of existence for retirees with expensive medications.

They will get substantial relief in 2025, when the Inflation Reduction Act, signed by President Biden last week, will cap all retirees’ annual drug copayments at $2,000. Monthly drug plan premiums are not included in this cap.

The cap will effectively eliminate the donut hole that currently requires retirees to pay 25 percent of the cost of their prescription drugs until they reach a threshold amount. The threshold increases every year and hit $7,050 this year.

A relatively small group of about 1.5 million retirees pay more than $2,000 for their prescriptions. But many of them are spending $5,000, $10,000 or more.

“It’s going to be an amazing thing” if the cap is implemented as Congress intended, said Ashlee Zareczny, compliance supervisor for Elite Insurance Partners, a Medicare health insurance broker outside Tampa.

Some of her firm’s retired clients pay so much for their medications that they have to make difficult choices between medications and food or other essential items. People who rely on Social Security “shouldn’t have to make those choices,” Zareczny said.

The cap will apply to all Medicare beneficiaries, whether they get their prescription drug coverage through a Part D plan or Medicare Advantage insurance plan, she said.

Under the current system, insurers that sell Medicare drug plans have a $480 maximum they are permitted to charge for the deductible. After meeting the deductible, retirees make their predetermined copayments under the insurance plan. They enter the donut hole after they spend $4,430 out of pocket, and then they are required to pay 25 percent of the cost of their drugs until they reach a threshold that pushes them into the catastrophic phase of Medicare’s drug coverage.

Once the catastrophic coverage kicks in, however, they are still responsible for 5 percent of the remaining drug costs. In 2024 – a year before the $2,000 cap goes into effect – the new healthcare law will eliminate the 5 percent copay.

The cap on total spending will protect any retiree who develops a medical condition requiring them to take very expensive medications. Currently, there is no limit on how much they may have to spend.

And, Zaraczny said, “They’re not prepared to put forth this money.” …Learn More

The Racial Roots of Retirement Inequality

Financial advisers and retirement experts say the best advice they can give workers to prepare for old age is to save, save, save.

But two young researchers might argue this advice isn’t sensitive to the hurdles that Black and Hispanic workers face when they try to save. At a recent panel discussion, the researchers presented a laundry list of the hurdles, which are harder for minority workers to clear and can be insurmountable.

One disadvantage is widely understood: people of color tend to be in lower-paying jobs overall and disproportionately work in the retail or the food service industries, which have irregular hours, high turnover, and wages that often depend on tips. Many of these jobs do not include employee health and retirement benefits, putting people of color at greater risk than White workers that their retirement income will fall short.

Dania Francis

Dania Francis

But the roots of retirement inequality run deeper and can be seen in the racial differences in intergenerational wealth – whether homeownership or a college education that leads to a good job – said Dania Francis, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a panelist at the event hosted by the university’s Pension Action Center.

White Americans, Francis said, are in a better position to retire because they receive inheritances at dramatically higher rates than Black and Hispanic Americans. She cited Federal Reserve data from 2010 through 2019: 42 percent of White households within 10 years of retiring had already received or expected to receive an inheritance from their parents.

The inheritance numbers were 14 percent for Black and 11 percent for Hispanic households.

White parents also provide money to their young adult children at higher rates to pay for investments in their future such as college or a down payment on a house, Francis said. And, she added, the lower wages earned by workers of color will also make it harder for them to ever “bridge that gap.”

Taha Choukhmane, an assistant professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, agreed. But he pointed to the billions of dollars in retirement incentives built into a tax code that also favors White workers and “contributes to inequality.” …Learn More

Housing Agencies Tend to Go Where Needed

Public housing agencies frequently prioritize people with disabilities on their waiting lists for subsidized apartments and federal rent vouchers. But agency budgets are tight, often requiring state and local governments to stretch a single housing office to serve multiple counties.

Many of the people on the waiting lists are also receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a federal program that makes monthly cash payments to low-income people with disabilities and is one way to verify they qualify for the housing preference.

A new study substantiates this connection: SSI applications are 11 percent higher in counties with housing offices than in counties that lack an office and are being served by a nearby county. The housing agencies also tend to be concentrated in areas with larger non-Hispanic Black populations, which have higher rates of disability than White Americans.

Together, these findings are a pretty good indication that housing officials’ decisions about where to locate their field offices are being driven at least in part by efforts to reach as many people with disabilities as possible, the researchers said in their analysis, which paired federal data on housing subsidies with the Social Security Administration’s records for SSI recipients.

But a more rigorous analysis is needed to determine whether adding a housing office in a county would increase or decrease SSI applications. The answer actually could go in either direction because SSI payments to low-income people are so intertwined with public housing assistance. …Learn More