In their last five years of life, elderly citizens incur an average of $39,000 in out-of-pocket medical collections costs not covered by Medicare. Heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes sufferers are the most affected.
According to a report published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and presented at the American Geriatrics Society in May, Medicare isn’t adequately covering the medical costs of older Americans, particularly in their last five years of life. This is largely due to the fact that federal program does not cover dental and eye care, hearing aids, home care or nursing homes. Additionally, patients must still pay deductibles and co-payments, leading to rising healthcare debt collection rates for elderly citizens facing life-altering illnesses.
For the study, researchers used data taken from the national Health and Retirement Study, which collects information every two years about medical out-of-pocket spending. They analyzed data for 3,209 people who had died between 2002 and 2008 and were at least 70 years old at their time of death.
What researchers found is that, on average, elderly Americans spend about $39,000 in healthcare costs during the last five years of their lives. Additionally, of the elderly citizens in the sample group, approximately 10 percent had incurred medical bills adding up to nearly $100,000 each. For many patients, paying those bills meant selling their homes or liquidating other assets. Meanwhile, many others who did not have the resources to pay ended up getting sent to medical collections.
Patients with the highest out-of-pocket health costs were those suffering from Alzheimer’s. They spent an average of $66,155 during the last five years of life. This is more than double what the average cancer patient spent ($32,129). After Alzheimer’s, the next two costliest illnesses were diabetes and cardiovascular disease, with patients spending an average of $38,517 and $37,996 respectively.