October 17, 2019
What if Medicare Paid Your Dentist?
Two out of three U.S. retirees do not have dental insurance. Their basic choice is paying their dentist bills directly or, if they can’t afford it, forgoing care.
A new report analyzes the pros and cons of one potential solution to this pervasive problem: adding dental coverage to Medicare. Several bills that have circulated in Congress, including the Seniors Have Eyes, Ears, and Teeth Act of 2019, would do just that.
This approach recognizes that teeth and gums have everything to do with one’s health, said Meredith Freed, a policy analyst for the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Medicare policy program. Elderly people with loose or missing teeth have difficulty eating nutritious but hard-to-chew foods. Gum disease, left untreated, increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, which is increasingly prevalent, makes people far more prone to gum disease.
Oral health care “has a significant impact on people’s happiness and financial well-being,” Freed said. Dental coverage under Medicare would “improve their quality of life.”
But a proposal to do this would face an uphill climb in Congress. Medicare is already under-funded. Dental care would only add to the program’s rising costs. Retirees do have another option: about two-thirds of the Medicare Advantage plans sold by insurance companies offer dental benefits. …Learn More
October 8, 2019
Medicaid is Crucial to Rural Hospitals
Rural hospital closings can be a matter of life or death.
Residents in these remote locations may have to drive 100 miles or more for emergency medical care. One new study found that hospital closings increase mortality in rural areas by 6 percent. No such impact occurred in urban areas with multiple medical centers.
Both urban and rural hospitals serving poor and low-income patients face myriad financial pressures, led by Medicare and Medicaid’s relatively low reimbursement rates for their disproportionate numbers of older and sicker patients. The 2013 federal budget, which cut Medicare reimbursements for hospitals and physicians by 2 percent, compounded the problems.
But what has become increasingly clear in rural areas is that the option given to states under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to expand their Medicaid-covered populations of high-need patients has created a dividing line between the most vulnerable hospitals and the survivors, said Brock Slabach, senior vice president of the National Rural Health Association, a hospital trade group.
With closures accelerating across the country over the past decade, 24 of the 31 rural hospitals that closed in 2018 and 2019 were located in the minority of states (14) that have not expanded their Medicaid programs, according to the Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina, which tracks hospital closures.
In contrast, the ACA has bolstered rural hospitals in expansion states by cutting their uninsured populations roughly in half by bringing in a fresh supply of federal and state revenues to insure more patients under Medicaid. …Learn More
August 15, 2019
Walk? Yes! But Not 10,000 Steps a Day
A few of my friends who’ve recently retired decided to start walking more, sometimes for an hour or more a day.
Becoming sedentary seems to be a danger in retirement, when life can slow down, and medical research has documented the myriad health benefits of physical activity. To enjoy the benefits from walking – weight loss, heart health, more independence in old age, and even a longer life – medical experts and fitness gurus often recommend that people shoot for 10,000 steps per day.
But what’s the point of a goal if it’s unrealistic? A Centers for Disease Control study that gave middle-aged people a pedometer to record their activity found that “the 10,000-step recommendation for daily exercise was considered too difficult to achieve.”
Here’s new information that should take some of the pressure off: walking about half as many steps still has substantial health benefits.
I. Min Lee at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston tracked 17,000 older women – average age 72 – to determine whether walking regularly would increase their life spans. It turns out that the women’s death rate declined by 40 percent when they walked just 4,400 steps a day.
Walking more than 4,400 steps is even better – but only up to a point. For every 1,000 additional steps beyond 4,400, the mortality rate declined, but the benefits stopped at around 7,500 steps per day, said the study, published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
More good news in the study for retirees is that it’s not necessary to walk vigorously to enjoy the health benefits. …Learn More
May 21, 2019
Retirement Dates Don’t Always Fit Plan
Today, half of U.S. workers say they want to work past age 65 – in the 1990s, only 16 percent did.
Apparently, people are getting the message that, if they want to be comfortable in retirement, they will need to work as long as possible. However, good intentions don’t pan out for more a third of workers closing in on retirement age. And the older the age they had planned to retire, the more they fall short of the goal.
Researchers at the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog, wanted to uncover why people do not follow through. Their study was based on a survey that asked people in their late 50s when they planned to retire and then watched them over the next several years to see what they did and why.
Two factors – the researchers call them shocks – play important roles in pushing people to retire early. The big factor is health. One health-related reason is intuitive: when older people develop a new condition, they become more likely to retire earlier than they’d planned. A second reason is that, when setting a date, they over-estimate how long they’ll be able to work if they have already developed health conditions like arthritis, heart disease, or emphysema. …Learn More
May 16, 2019
Social, Economic Inequities Grow with Age
Retirement, as portrayed in TV commercials, is the time to indulge a passion, whether tennis, enjoying more time with a spouse, frequent socializing, or civic engagement.
Boston University sociologist Deborah Carr isn’t buying this idealized picture of aging.
“This gilded existence is not within the grasp of all older adults,” she argues in “Golden Years? Social Inequality in Later Life.” “For those on the lower rungs of the ladder,” she writes, retirement is “marked by daily struggle, physical health challenges and economic scarcity.”
Her book, which mines multidisciplinary research on aging, reaches the distressing conclusion that economic inequality not only exists but that it becomes more pronounced as people age and become vulnerable. And this problem will grow and affect more people as the population gets older.
Poverty has actually declined among retirees since the 1960s. But by every measure – health, money, social and family relationships, mental well-being – seniors who have a lower socioeconomic status are at a big disadvantage. They have more financial problems, which creates stress, and they are more isolated and die younger.
Throughout the book, Carr documents the myriad ways the disparities, which begin at birth, reinforce each other as people grow up and grow old.
“Advantage begets further advantage, and disadvantage begets further disadvantage,” Carr concludes. For the less fortunate, “old age can be the worst of times,” she said. …Learn More
April 30, 2019
Medical Costs Slam a Minority of Seniors
As retirees’ health declines, their medical costs go up. These costs include both everyday healthcare expenses and long-term care costs.
The everyday expenses that Medicare does not cover – Part B and Part D premiums, copayments, eyeglasses, and dental care – consume about 20 percent of the incomes of households ages 75 and over. While not exactly good news, 20 percent is “perhaps manageable” for most, concluded researchers at the Center for Retirement Research in a summary of various studies in this area.
The real problem comes for the unlucky minority – about 5 percent of seniors – who spend more than half of their income out of their own pockets for healthcare.
Turning to long-term care, these services are less frequently required but can be very costly. For example, while many nursing home stays are relatively short, a lengthy stay is a potentially crippling expense. One common trigger for a long-term stay is dementia.
The retirees facing the greatest financial risk from health care expenses tend to be those who earned enough to buy a house and put money away in their employer’s retirement plan. They have more to lose if their wealth is eaten up by exorbitant medical costs. The poor, in contrast, are covered by Medicaid, which often pays for Medicare premiums and long-term care. …Learn More
March 21, 2019
Men Who Work Longer, Live Longer
In 2007, the majority of workers in The Netherlands were retiring by their early sixties to take advantage of the country’s generous pension scheme. Then came a sweeping 2009 policy that rewarded older workers with a tax break if they remained employed and active.
In a new study, researchers used this tax break – the Doorwerkbonus, or continued work bonus – to ask the question: do people who worked longer in response to this policy also live longer? The short answer is “no” for women but “yes” for men. Delaying retirement increased men’s lifespans by three months, compared with a group that was not eligible for the bonus, possibly because working longer improved their health.
The tax break was the equivalent of a wage increase for all older workers in every sector of the Dutch economy. The bonus started as a 5 percent tax cut for working people in the year they turned 62, increased to 7 percent at 63, and 10 percent at 64. After that, the rewards from work dwindled, falling to 1 percent for everyone over 67. (In 2013, the size of the tax break was reduced.)
Prior to the new study, other researchers had examined whether earlier retirements caused people to die younger. But Alice Zulkarnain and Matthew Rutledge at the Center for Retirement Research took the opposite tack. They asked: were the Dutch living longer because they delayed retirement after the Doorwerkbonus went into effect?
While the policy did increase men’s life spans slightly, women seemed unaffected, because fewer of them responded to it by working longer.
Is there a lesson in the Doorwerkbonus for American boomers? This study indicates that working longer will not only put more money in retirees’ pockets, it might also add to their life spans. …Learn More