Nov 15, 2022 - News

Elderly Texans face big burdens

Illustration of an elderly man in a wheelchair with a giant quarter for a wheel

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Economic instability, loneliness and food insecurity will be the biggest burdens on elderly Texans over the next year, per a report by Alignment Health, a Medicare Advantage provider covering the state.

Why it matters: Health care institutions and advocacy organizations are preparing for a wave of more Baby Boomers who will reach retirement age in the next few years and compete over already-limited resources for aging Americans.

The big picture: An estimated 10,000 people turn 65 every day in the U.S., and the population of older adults is expected to double over the next few decades.

Zoom in: Almost 4 million people in Texas are older than 65 and 3.3 million are just a few years away from turning 65, per 2020 Census data.

  • 31% of elderly Texans surveyed — compared to 25% of seniors nationwide — expect to have trouble paying for medical bills, medications and medical supplies in the next year, according to the Alignment Health report. 
  • 19% said they won't have consistent access to nutritious foods, and 28% said trouble paying medical bills will be their biggest obstacle to care next year.

Yes, but: It's possible the numbers are even higher because many seniors don't feel comfortable sharing that they are struggling financially. 

Threat level: The COVID pandemic and rising costs of living continue to weigh on elderly Americans nationwide, the Alignment Health data shows.

  • 1 in 5 seniors surveyed said they feel more isolated now than they did a year ago.
  • 1 in 6 report having medical debt, and half of them say their debt is more than a month of living expenses.
  • Renae Perry, who helps run Dallas-based The Senior Source, says she's heard of many North Texans delaying their retirement or returning to work after retirement to keep up with their expenses.

What they're saying: "Seniors have gotten us to this point as a country. They've built our infrastructure, they've created this great prosperity, they've fought in wars — but many struggle as they get up in years, as they retire, and try to make do on limited income," Adam Wolk, a regional chief medical officer for Alignment Health, tells Axios.

What seniors want: A monthly grocery allowance and 24-hour telehealth access are the two most desired benefits across the country.

  • Money for hearing aids was also a popular ask among elderly Texans.

Of note: Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured residents per capita, but it's one of 11 states that hasn't expanded Medicaid.

  • Expansion could help over 1 million Texans access federal health insurance coverage, but its chances of approval in the GOP-led state legislature are next to nil.
  • Perry says she hopes to see more serious conversations about Medicaid expansion and more protections for seniors in the upcoming legislative session.

Worthy of your time: The Senior Source offers many volunteer opportunities for seniors, such as mentoring at-risk youth, giving family caregivers a break, and keeping tabs on the quality of care at long-term care facilities. 

  • "We see and hear directly from [seniors] that engaging in activities where they are contributing something meaningful to the community decreases their loneliness and increases their sense of purpose," Perry says.
  • There are also volunteer opportunities for younger people to help.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say the report was from Alignment Health, not Alignment Healthcare.


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