Posts Tagged "health care"
October 27, 2022
A Start on Estimating Retiree Medical Costs
New Medicare enrollees can expect their uncertain medical expenses to take roughly $67,000 out of the household budget, on average, over the rest of their lives.
Since this estimate is only an average, some retirees will pay less and some will pay much more. And the estimate, revealed in a new brief by Karolos Arapakis at the Center for Retirement Research and based on a larger study, includes only the copayments and cost-sharing charges paid by retired households over 65. It excludes their single largest medical expense – monthly insurance premiums.
The estimate is, nevertheless, a useful benchmark for older workers and retirees who want to get a better handle on their health care spending, which is very difficult to plan for. The study takes into account the unexpected cost of things like a broken arm, as well as the cost of managing chronic medical conditions, which accumulate over the years.
To estimate total medical costs, the researchers linked a periodic survey of retirees that includes out-of-pocket spending to their Medicare insurance records – for Parts A, B and D, and Medicaid – and to a separate data source that tracks private insurance policies such as Medicare Advantage plans and other smaller public and private sources.
The various government and private insurers pay around 78 percent of older households’ total lifetime health care costs, excluding premiums, the researchers found. The retirees pay the remaining 22 percent, or about $67,300 for an older household with average spending for medical care.
However, retirees with the most serious medical problems will spend two times more out-of-pocket during their lives, and relatively healthy people will pay less. …Learn More
September 29, 2022
Healthcare’s Big Bite Out of Retiree Budgets
This year, retirees were jolted by the 14.5 percent hike in Medicare’s Part B premium for medical services. It was the second-largest percentage increase in at least 20 years.
The monthly premium, which rose to $170, will drop to $165 in 2023. But medical care is an expensive proposition that consumes a big chunk of many retirees’ income from Social Security, 401(k)s, and other sources.
According to a new analysis of 2018 health care data, typical retirees had 88 percent of their total income left to buy everything else after paying for medical care. And one in 10 retirees with inordinately large health care costs had 63 percent or less left over for living expenses, said Melissa McInerney, Matthew Rutledge, and Sara Ellen King in their study for the Center for Retirement Research.
Interestingly, Medicare does protect against the larger cost burdens that follow health declines. As retirees age or develop chronic physical or medical conditions, the researchers found, the share of income consumed by medical costs doesn’t change very much.
Medicare covers virtually all retirees, and the lion’s share of their out-of-pocket medical expenses are premiums – for Part B, Part D drug coverage, Medigap, or Medicare Advantage insurance plans. The other medical expenses included in this study were cost-sharing and copayments for basic Medicare, prescription drugs, eyeglasses, hearing aids, and visits to the doctor, dentist, and hospital. Long-term care costs were excluded.
The analysis was restricted to people who have signed up for both Medicare and Social Security.
Paying for care puts the most strain on low-income Americans, many of whom rely almost exclusively on Social Security and have few, if any, other income sources. The exception is people with such low incomes that they qualify for Medicaid; they pay only 4 percent of their income for health care. …Learn More
August 25, 2022
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. …
August 23, 2022
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
March 15, 2022
High School Career Courses Keep on Giving
For young adults who don’t have a college degree, the career-oriented courses they took in high school give them a leg up in the job market. But do the benefits of higher-quality employment after high school continue into middle age?
The first known U.S. study to examine the long-term impact of high school curricula finds that career and technical classes produce workers who, even though they didn’t attend college, are employed at age 50 – even better if they also took Algebra 2 and other college-prep math courses.
To target the students who prepared themselves for better-paying jobs, the courses the researcher counted as career-oriented were business and marketing, health care, agriculture, and computer programming. Amanda Bosky at the University of Wisconsin excluded courses that tracked students into low-wage work like food service and childcare.
Career and technical courses improved the labor market standing of men and women, with subtle differences. For the women, the more career courses they took in high school, the more likely they were to be employed at age 50. The benefits held true regardless of the individual’s innate characteristics, which usually play a role in career success – from scores on standardized math tests to parents’ income.
For 50-year-old men, any amount of career and technical training improved their odds of continued work, according to the analysis, which used a survey of 1982 high school graduates that checked in on them again decades later. The students’ transcripts, detailing their coursework, supplemented the survey.
Although Bosky didn’t examine the types of jobs the older workers were doing, her premise is that it’s better to be employed than not in the years before retiring.
The findings have another important implication. Understanding what it takes for high school graduates to be engaged in the labor force at 50 is crucial at a time secure union jobs are being eliminated and the demands of a technology-based economy have increased. …Learn More
February 17, 2022
Mortgage Payoff Frees Up Money for Meds
Paying off the mortgage frees up a lot of money for other things. The homeowners in one study splurged on big-ticket items.
Older homeowners, however, are adding another priority: medications.
After a mortgage payoff, workers and retirees ages 50 to 64 spent 50 percent more on prescription drugs in a comparison with households who had no major changes in their monthly housing costs, according to a new study by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies and funded by the U.S Social Security Administration.
The mortgage is typically a homeowner’s largest monthly expense. If medication spending rises when this big bill is eliminated, it supports the argument that some aging homeowners who are still carrying a mortgage may be choosing housing over necessary medical care.
This research is particularly relevant at a time older Americans are entering retirement with more debt. In 2016, four in 10 retirees had a mortgage – double the share in the late 1980s.
Not surprisingly, the researchers found some indication that lower-income workers and early retirees benefited more from eliminating their monthly payments. They have difficulty paying even for essential expenses, and the increase in their prescription purchases after paying off the home loan appeared to be larger than for higher-income groups with fewer constraints.
The researchers split the homeowners into two age groups – under and over 65. While homeowners under 65 sharply increased their drug spending after the mortgage payments ended, the Medicare beneficiaries did not.
The level spending after Medicare eligibility indicates that the program relieves some of the pressure on the family budget, the researchers said. Medicare also provides an average $5,000 annually to subsidize low-income retirees’ medications under the Low Income Subsidy program.
But for older homeowners who are too young to get Medicare but are still paying a mortgage, the study “raises serious concerns for health care quality and the costs to treat poorly managed conditions,” the researchers said.
To read this study, authored by Christopher Herbert, Jennifer Molinsky, Samara Scheckler, and Kacie Dragan, see “Older Adult Out-of-Pocket Pharmaceutical Spending after Home Mortgage Payoff.”
A blog post last year featured a similar study – this one about the older Americans’ adherence to medications after …Learn More
October 5, 2021
ACA Insurance in the Time of COVID-19
The urgency of the pandemic ushered in important changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including a steep reduction in premiums for health insurance policies purchased on the state and federal exchanges through the end of 2022. Now Congress is debating reforms such as making the larger premium subsidies permanent and broadening the reach of the federal-state Medicaid program beyond the expansion introduced in the 2010 ACA.
We spoke with Tyson Lester, an independent insurance agent in southern California, about what the changes so far have meant for consumers. Tyson is licensed to sell policies in California, Florida, and Texas.
Has the Affordable Care Act promoted disease prevention and care during the pandemic?
Some of the best feedback we got from our clients was about using the telehealth and remote options in their policies. It’s been an option for quite some time, but it was utilized more frequently during COVID-19. People were able to access primary care physicians, receive consultation and be diagnosed with COVID over the phone. It was amazing. It helped them because: 1) they were able to just make a phone call; 2) they were able to receive good consultation; and 3) if testing was necessary, they were able to go to a testing facility.
In response to COVID, did you see a rush into ACA policies last year?
ACA enrollment increased last year, but consumers’ response to the pandemic was mixed. In 2020, 12 states and Washington D.C. temporarily reopened their health insurance exchanges but people didn’t have the additional premium assistance to make it more affordable. In the remaining states, working people who lacked employer health insurance didn’t have the ACA as another option for coverage when the pandemic hit.
As for the workers who did have employer health insurance last year but then lost their jobs, they had to make a tough decision between whether they wanted to elect their employer’s COBRA, which is expensive, go uninsured, or go on the insurance exchange. But many people weren’t fully aware of the ACA’s longstanding option: when someone loses group health insurance from their employer, they can buy what’s known as a special enrollment ACA plan. In Texas, for example, part of the reason for last year’s increase in the uninsured population, in the midst of COVID-19, was that people who lost their jobs – and their employer coverage – weren’t even aware the ACA exchanges were available to them. We actually put a flyer together for this specific topic last year, because it was so important.
In March, the American Rescue Plan significantly increased the ACA premium subsidies through December 2022. What has been the effect?
For anybody who was previously enrolled, the American Rescue Plan significantly reduced premiums in California, Texas, and Florida and potentially their total out-of-pocket costs. As a result of the larger subsidies, I saw an influx of new customers throughout this year on California’s exchange, which – unlike most other states – opened a special enrollment for all of 2021. Earlier this year, the federal exchange opened, which caused an influx of customers too. This is where Texas, Florida and many other states sell their ACA policies. All states on the federal exchange shut down again in August but will reopen for 2022 in November. …