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Seniors struggle to afford health care

Reproduced from Kaiser Family Foundation; Note: Costs do not include premiums; Chart: Axios Visuals

More than half of Medicare beneficiaries with a serious illness have struggled to afford a medical bill, and some beneficiaries with chronic conditions pay an astronomical amount out of pocket for their care, two new studies find.

Why it matters: Medicare is supposed to be a safety net for America's seniors, but its lack of a cap on what beneficiaries pay out-of-pocket — and the fact that it doesn't cover some benefits — leads to many seniors falling through the cracks.

Driving the news: A new survey published yesterday in Health Affairs found that 53% of seriously ill Medicare beneficiaries said they'd experienced financial hardships while trying to get care.

  • Respondents reported having problems paying prescription drug bills most often, followed by hospital bills.

A second brief published by the Kaiser Family Foundation broke down Medicare beneficiaries' out-of-pocket spending, which averaged $5,460 in in 2016, including their premiums.

  • The most expensive service for seniors, by far, was long-term care, which isn't covered by Medicare.
  • Beneficiaries with diseases likely to require long-term care — like Alzheimer's, other kinds of dementia, or Parkinson’s — had the highest spending.
  • Older beneficiaries, women and those in poor health faced higher-than-average costs.

The bottom line: Democrats across the ideological spectrum are leaning into expanding Medicare, but the existing program has plenty of holes.

Go deeper: The looming crisis in long-term care