Nov 17, 2022 - News

Florida seniors have big medical debt

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

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Florida's oldest residents face the nation's biggest burden of medical bills, according to a new study.

What's happening: 14% of seniors in Florida — which has one of the largest populations of adults age 65 and older in the U.S. — have outstanding medical debt, a report by Alignment Health found.

  • 34% of those owe a total equivalent to three months or more in living expenses, compared to 27% of their peers nationwide.

Why it matters: It can be extremely difficult for seniors to dig out from debt, particularly if they've left the labor force or are dealing with medical issues.

By the numbers: Adults 65 and older make up more than 21% of the state's population, according to census data. In St. Pete and Tampa, elderly residents make up about 19% and 13% of the population respectively.

  • And more are moving into the state. Florida recently gained more older adults from net migration than any other state, at 53,150 annually during a typical year between 2015 and 2019, according to a recent census report.

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.

  • That means that the wave of Baby Boomers who will reach retirement age in the next few years will have to compete over already-limited resources for aging Americans, Axios' Naheed Rajwani-Dharsi reports.
  • Economic instability, loneliness and food insecurity will be the biggest burdens on older Americans over the next year, Alignment Health, a Medicare Advantage provider covering the state, predicted in the report.

What they're saying: Adam Wolk, a regional chief medical officer for Alignment Health, told Axios that older Floridians should pay special attention to their Medicare choices during open enrollment.

  • Some plans offer services like access to at-home care, transportation to doctor's appointments and grocery benefits. Seniors should also pay attention to differences in out of pocket medical costs and co-pays, Wolk said.
  • "Not all plans are created equal," he said. "Those little benefits make a big difference. Those low co-pays can be the difference between getting medication and not."

Be smart: We're in the midst of Medicare open enrollment, which spans Oct. 15–Dec. 7 each year.

His bottom line: "Don't suffer in silence. A lot of seniors don't like to admit that they're struggling," Wolk said.

  • "Don't be afraid to reach out to help whether it's to a physician, family, friends. People do want to help and they're out there."

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