New research out Friday is the latest to paint a depressing picture of the U.S. health care system. The study found that nearly half of older Americans are worried about their ability to afford health insurance by the time they retire, while one-fourth aren’t sure they’ll have insurance within a year’s time.
Any legal resident over the age of 65 in America is entitled to Medicare, the government’s largest publicly-funded insurance program. But many older Americans have historically struggled to afford paying for health insurance before that age. And Medicare programs still require people to pay premiums and deductibles, while more expensive supplemental insurance is needed to cover things like vision and dental care.
Reforms like the Affordable Care Act—passed during the Obama administration—have definitely improved the situation for older people not quite eligible for Medicare. A 2017 Senate report, for instance, found that the uninsured rate among Americans ages 50 to 64 had dropped from 12 percent in 2013 to 6 percent in 2015. But according to the authors of this new study, published Friday in JAMA Network Open, there’s less attention paid to whether these Americans are still worried about their future medical costs, even if they have insurance currently.
Their findings, based on an online survey ran by the University of Michigan of more than 1,000 adults living across the country between 50 to 64, offer a grim diagnosis.
They found that 27 percent had “little to no confidence in being able to afford health insurance over the next year.” Forty-seven percent felt the same about being able to afford insurance by the time they retired. And around two-thirds were also at least a little worried about potential changes to their health insurance that might be caused by the government.
For some context, President Trump stated last month that his administration would be open to scaling back Medicare and Social Security, and his budget proposals have often tried to cut down Medicare funding.
As other research has found, many in the survey also didn’t get the medical help they needed because they couldn’t afford it. Some 13 percent said they did not get medical care, while 12 percent avoided filling a prescription medication, because of cost. Those worried about their ability to afford insurance in the near future were understandably more likely to avoid the doctor.
These fears also affected people’s lives in other ways. Around 14 percent felt they had to keep their current job just to have access to employer-provided insurance. And nearly 12 percent said they were considering or had already delayed retirement to keep their current employer-provided insurance plan.
The authors reference several proposals by largely Democratic politicians that would lower the age of eligibility for Medicare or provide universal health care coverage with few out of pocket costs involved. But regardless of the specific plan, they argue something has to be done to help these people.
“Policy solutions are needed to enhance the stability of health insurance affordability and availability for adults in this age group,” they wrote.