Posts Tagged "Medicare"

Middle Class Gets the Most from Medicare

width=This is a fact of retirement life: older Americans haven’t paid as much into Medicare and Medicaid as government spends on their healthcare and nursing home stays.

But it is middle-class retirees who get the most out of the system, according to a new study.

Middle-income households receive about $230,000 to $260,000 more in Medicare and Medicaid benefits, on average, during their retirement years than the total amount they’ve paid in. Their contributions consist of the Medicare payroll and income taxes deducted from workers’ paychecks, the portion of their federal and state income taxes devoted to Medicare and Medicaid, and the Medicare Part B and D premiums they are paying in retirement.

The net benefit of the programs to the middle class dwarfs the $153,000 in average net benefits for retired households in the top fifth of the lifetime earnings distribution, and it also exceeds the $196,000 gain for the bottom fifth.

The middle class is defined as the second, third, and fourth of the five earnings groups the researchers analyzed in this study. The annual data used to calculate the health spending and payment estimates for this analysis are adjusted for inflation.

width=Americans over 65 receive a third of all the medical care provided in this country. This new research, funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration, uses government administrative data to compare the benefits of Medicare and its smaller companion program, Medicaid, for each earnings group.

There are two reasons the middle class gets the most from the system. First, although the top earners live the longest and receive the most medical care, the middle class lives almost as long and ends up receiving a significant amount of care. …Learn More

Medicare to Cover 3 New Dental Procedures

“Is it medically necessary for a person to be able to chew?” Dr. Lisa Simon, a physician and dentist at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, asks.

This is a serious question for older Americans in fragile health. I know a 93-year-old man whose teeth problems make it extremely difficult for him to eat meat and many other foods on the dinner table.

Two-thirds of retirees do not have dental insurance, which means they may decide to forgo getting expensive dental care. The importance of dental care to nutrition and health is also an equity issue for older Blacks and low-income retirees, who are more likely to be missing all of their teeth.

Medicare has historically paid for very few dental procedures. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has expanded its existing, limited coverage to include treating patients who have oral infections prior to an organ transplant and patients who need a cardiac procedure or treatment of head and neck cancers.

Simon, who advocates for integrating dental care into overall medical care, argues in the journal Health Affairs that Medicare’s expansion of coverage for medically necessary procedures does not go far enough.

“These provisions are an overly narrow interpretation of what makes a health care service          ‘necessary,’ ” Simon writes.

She lists several examples of medically necessary conditions that don’t seem to fit Medicare’s updated definition. They include cancer patients who have oral inflammation during chemotherapy, diabetes patients with periodontal disease, and elderly women being treated for osteoporosis with injections that put them at risk of painful jaw deterioration. …Learn More

Readers’ Favorite Retirement Blogs: 2022

Older Americans who want to be smart about retirement finances are curious about the intricacies of Social Security.

The blog that drew the most traffic from our readers last year – “The Bridge to a Larger Social Security Check” – suggested a strategy for getting more out of the program: delay signing up for Social Security by withdrawing savings from a 401(k) to pay the bills.

Each year that Social Security is postponed adds 7 percent to 8 percent to a retiree’s monthly benefit check. A couple of years of delay, funded with savings, can provide significantly more money, month after month, to pay the bills. The researchers concluded from an experiment that asked older workers to consider the delay strategy that a substantial minority “are interested in a bridge option despite its unfamiliarity.”

Another popular blog last year was about an experiment involving another unfamiliar concept fundamental to the program: the Retirement Earnings Test. In “Explaining Social Security’s Earnings Test,” readers learned that any reduction in benefits that occurs if they simultaneously work and collect the benefit in their early to mid-60s is not a tax.

Instead, under Social Security’s rules, some of an older worker’s benefits may be deferred. The benefits are incrementally added back into his monthly checks after he reaches his full retirement age under the program. Understanding that the reduction in benefits is a deferral, rather than an outright cut, is an important aspect of the program that is increasingly important for older workers looking for strategies to improve their standard of living in retirement.

If delaying Social Security is good for older workers’ financial security, the article “COVID’s Impact on Social Security Claiming” delivered a little good news. The generous, extended unemployment benefits approved by Congress made it easier for older workers who lost their jobs during the 2020 spike in unemployment to remain in the labor force rather than sign up early for their benefits and lock in a smaller monthly check.

This positive pandemic trend was a stark contrast to the Great Recession. During months of protracted unemployment following the 2008 financial crisis, jobless older workers became more likely to resort to signing up for Social Security because they needed income.

One aspect of retiring and aging that can really throw a wrench in financial planning is medical costs. In “A Start on Estimating Retiree Medical Costs,” the researcher estimates that retirees with average healthcare needs must cover about 22 percent of their total out-of-pocket costs, excluding premiums, or just over $67,000 in total over their remaining lives. Retirees needing high levels of care can spend twice as much.

Another unknown: long-term care. A study covered in “Spouse in Nursing Home Raises Poverty Risk” finds that one in three married people in their early 70s is likely to have a spouse who will eventually wind up in a nursing home. Not all nursing home stays are for an extended period of time. But if an unlucky spouse does have a long stay, the couple is significantly more likely to become impoverished while paying for the care.

Other popular blog topics in 2022 included Medicare, work, and profiles of individual retirees: …Learn More

Spouse in Nursing Home Raises Poverty Risk

When nursing home care uses up a widow’s savings, the federal Medicaid program will kick in and cover her bills for care. But it’s more complicated for couples.

If one spouse moves into a nursing home and the bills start piling up, the person who is still living in their home can face serious financial hardship and even poverty.

This is a significant risk facing the one in three married people in their early 70s whose spouse will eventually wind up in a nursing home, researchers at RAND found in a study on the financial impact on couples rather than individuals.

It’s not unusual to pay roughly $90,000 for a year for a semi-private in a nursing home, though many people have relatively short stays. A common misconception about Medicare is that it covers all nursing home bills. It does not. The program pays for just 100 days of care in a skilled nursing facility and only after someone has been in the hospital and needs more time for recovery or rehabilitation.

High-income retirees pay directly for care that doesn’t follow a hospital stay, because in most states Medicaid kicks in only after couples deplete all but about $3,000 in savings to cover the cost of the nursing home. There is one significant protection for couples under Medicaid’s eligibility rules: their home does not count as an asset as long as a spouse continues to live there.

But if an unlucky couple has high out-of-pocket spending due to a long stay in a nursing home, the researchers found that it increases the chances they will run through virtually all of their savings and become impoverished. While poverty is far less likely for higher-income couples, they are not immune. …Learn More

A New Link Between Opioids and Disability

Picture a worker who has an injury so traumatic that he or she is rushed to the emergency room. A doctor prescribes an opioid to ease the pain.

A new working paper adds to the growing evidence that taking opioids, even when necessary, can have serious long-term consequences for workers’ career paths.

Michael Dworsky at RAND found that workers who received prescription opioids after visiting Colorado emergency rooms were far more likely to enroll in Medicare before turning 65 than people who didn’t get a prescription to treat an injury. Starting Medicare before 65 almost always indicates that someone has left the labor force and is receiving benefits from Social Security Disability Insurance, the primary social program for workers with disabilities.

Dworsky reached similar findings in three different analyses, which used Medicare enrollment within four years of an emergency room visit as a rough proxy for whether workers are receiving the federal disability benefits.

People who had taken opioids prior to being injured were the most likely to leave the labor force. After an emergency room visit resulted in a new opioid prescription, more than 2 percent of the previous users wound up on Medicare and disability – a rate that is four times higher than for traumatic-injury patients who had never previously taken opioids.

Dworsky also examined the morphine-equivalent doses that were dispensed to patients over time. The probability of receiving prescription opioids spiked immediately after workers’ injuries and then stabilized at a higher level than before the injuries. …Learn More

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

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