Low-income Americans are about three times more likely to see a doctor if they’re enrolled in Medicare, a study suggests.
Researchers found it that 14.7 percent of poor 64-year-olds postponed seeking medical care, while 15.5 percent avoided it because of cost, while only 6.2 percent of Medicare enrollees postponed care and less than 6 percent avoided it.
The federal health care program for approximately 63 million seniors is effective in removing some of the financial barriers to health care for seniors that people with private health insurance still face.
People with long-term disabilities and patients with end-stage kidney disease are also eligible for Medicare coverage.
But there’s been pressure on Capitol Hill to extend that eligibility to people aged 60-64
Proponents of the change say it would expand access to critical preventive and life-saving care for millions of people. Wider access to preventive health care could lower the cost of treating a person with a serious illness such as cancer over time and help reduce health disparities.
The latest study, by doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, looked at the 2019 health data of about 7.4 million people. Of that total, about 3.7 million were eligible for Medicare.
Researchers behind the study pulled data from the 2019 US National Health Interview Survey, a cross-sectional household survey used to track progress toward national health goals and evaluate health policies.
Harvard University experts found that the federal Medicare program for seniors could lower health care costs for millions more people if the eligibility age were lowered from 65 to 60.
Medicare plans are only offered to seniors 65 and older, certain people with long-term disabilities, and those with end-stage kidney disease.
About 48 million people are enrolled in Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit that gives them access to more affordable medications.
The study focused primarily on low-income Americans below the Medicare age, who would have a much higher cost burden than those enrolled in the government program.
The study also included high-income adults, but the findings were more modest and less consistent among higher-income adults, the authors said.
In 2019, only 6.2 percent of low-income 66-year-olds avoided care and 5.9 percent delayed care due to costs.
Meanwhile, 14.7 percent of 64-year-olds not yet eligible for Medicare care and 15.5 percent avoided care altogether because of cost, according to a new report published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
Poor 66-year-old people enrolled in Medicare also experienced much less financial pressure compared to their younger counterparts.
At age 66, 51.1 percent were concerned and 20.6 percent had difficulty paying medical bills. But at age 64, 66.5 percent of low-income adults worried about medical bills and 33.9 percent struggled to pay them.
dr. Rishi Wadhera, a co-author of the report, said, “More than 40 percent of American adults under the age of 65 are either uninsured or underinsured.”
dr. Wadhera added: “The majority of Americans do not qualify for Medicare insurance coverage until age 65, and our findings suggest that this transition is associated with significant improvements in health care access, affordability and reductions in financial pressures.” for low-income adults. , and to a lesser extent among adults with a higher income.’
The report comes amid brewing pressure from the federal government’s left to lower the eligibility age from 65 to 60.
Expansion of eligibility would provide crucial assistance to adults who choose to retire early, before 65, or those who leave their employer insurance plans.
The move would affect about 12 million adults ages 60 to 64 who are currently enrolled in their employer-sponsored health care plans.
But about 9 million of them are expected to keep their private health insurance and take Medicare Part A as supplemental insurance, according to to the Municipal Institute.
A cadre of progressive lawmakers, including Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who conducts caucuses with the Democrats, has been lobbying for a change for over a year.
Rep. Jayapal’s legislation lowering the eligibility age has broad support in her party with 136 cosponsors. But the bill has been stalled in committee for more than a year.
And with Republicans planning to take back control of at least one chamber of Congress, the prospect of lowering the eligibility age is getting darker.
President Joe Biden himself pledged in April 2020 that he would work to make Americans over 60 eligible to buy Medicare, though it never came to fruition.
Lowering the Medicare age by the numbers
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that lowering eligibility would increase deficits by $155 billion over the six years of 2026 and 2031
New federal spending on Medicare for adults ages 60 to 64 would be $64.7 billion by 2023
The net increase in federal spending would be $44.6 billion
About 403,000 people would be newly insured
Opponents of the proposal claim it would accelerate the federal program’s financial ruin and increase federal deficits.
The unbiased Congressional Budget Office estimated that lowering the eligibility age to age 60 would have only marginal benefits.
The agency estimated that the policy would increase deficits by $155 billion in the six years from 2026 to 2031, while reducing the number of the uninsured by only about 403,000.
The move to expand eligibility may have adverse consequences. Many low-income people under the age of 65 already receive Obamacare subsidies that lower their health insurance premiums, so a shift to Medicare could lead to higher premiums and higher out-of-pocket expenses.