Poll Finds a Quarter of Seniors have Health Care Cost Concerns

Thursday, September 24, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, September 24, 2015
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POLL FINDS A QUARTER OF SENIORS HAVE HEALTH CARE COST CONCERNS
Those with Poorer Health or Lower Incomes More Affected

Boston (September 24, 2015) – A new poll conducted by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds that more than one quarter of seniors age 65 and older are dissatisfied with their health care costs, and 23 percent say it has gotten harder to pay for health care over the past five years. Both concerns are higher among seniors who report poor health or a disability.

The poll of more than 500 seniors was conducted between late June and July, and found that 81 percent of respondents were somewhat or very satisfied with the Commonwealth’s health care system. Those satisfaction levels exceeded 90 percent when seniors were asked about the care they had received during their last visit to a physician’s office or their most recent hospital stay.

Despite strong overall satisfaction with the state’s health care system, many seniors lack confidence they will have enough money or insurance to pay for health care in the future. This is particularly true for older adults in households living on $25,000 or less per year, about one-third (36%) of whom lack confidence in their future ability to pay. In contrast, only 10 percent of seniors in households living on $50,000 or more per year cite this concern.

“These findings suggest that while seniors in Massachusetts by and large have access to affordable health care, there are still unresolved concerns regarding their ability to pay for the care that they receive,” said Audrey Shelto, President of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation. “We believe the data will help policymakers focus their efforts as they try to help those of limited means obtain and pay for the care they need.”

The poll offers one of the most detailed looks to date into the experiences of low-income Massachusetts seniors who have problems paying for health care. Between 11 percent and 12 percent of those making under $25,000 a year reported spending all or most of their personal savings on large medical bills (12%), being unable to pay for basic necessities (12%), or being contacted by a bill collector (11%). Among those earning $50,000 or more annually, just 2 percent reported such consequences.

The poll indicates that prescription drugs are particularly difficult for low-income seniors to afford, as 17 percent report not filling a prescription because of cost concerns and 11 percent report skipping a dose of their medications. These figures for higher-income seniors are five percent and two percent, respectively.

“These findings show that a share of seniors in the Commonwealth simply do not have adequate health insurance coverage, given their health care needs. This is particularly true for seniors in poor health, those with disabilities, and those living in low-income households,” said Dr. Robert J. Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Kennedy School.

Poll results will be presented during a panel discussion titled “The State of Health Coverage for the Elderly in Massachusetts: Affordability, Access and Satisfaction,” to be held from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 24 at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston.

Dr. Blendon will be joined by colleague Nancy Turnbull, as well as representatives from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the SHINE program, and the Massachusetts Senior Action Council.

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About the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation:
The mission of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation is to expand access to health care for low-income and vulnerable individuals and families in the Commonwealth. The Foundation was founded in 2001 with an initial endowment from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. It operates separately from the company and is governed by its own Board of Directors.

About Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health:
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people’s lives—not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at Harvard Chan School teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as America’s oldest professional training program in public health.