Report Reveals Out-of-Pocket Cost of Health Care in Last 5 Years of Life

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The Journal of General Internal Medicine recently published a report that looked at data from more than 3,000 people covered by Medicare to gauge the impact of health care cost on seniors. Researchers measured how much Medicare-eligible seniors had spent out of pocket on healthcare in their last five years alive, and looked at how those costs weighed on their total household income.

After crunching the numbers, the report found that during that time period, more than 75 percent of Medicare-eligible households spent at least $10,000 out of pocket on health care. Spending for all participants during those last five years averaged $38,688, and for the remaining 25 percent the average expense was even greater: they spent $10,791 out of pocket! The report’s researchers noted that expenses varied based on the type of illness participants faced, with dementia costing the most money (double the cost of cancer or gastrointestinal diseases).

A study on the nation’s health released recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that between 2003 and 2013, total personal healthcare expenditures grew from $1.5 trillion to $2.5 trillion. During this decade, the average annual growth in Medicare expenditures was 7.2%, for Medicaid (federal) it was 4.7%, for Medicaid (state) 5.7%, for private health insurance 4.8%, and for out-of-pocket spending 3.6%. And while this rise in health care costs is significant, it pales in comparison to the challenges of paying for health care needs as the boomers age.

According to the Journal of the American Medical association, the baby boomer generation is actually sicker than their parents’ generation as illustrated in these numbers:

  • Almost 40 percent of boomers are obese, compared with 29 percent a generation ago
  • 52 percent said they got no regular physical activity versus 17 percent of their parents
  • One in five has diabetes
  • 40% are obese
  • 51% have hypertension in 2009 to 2012
  • 45% take a prescription cardiovascular drug
  • nearly one third (32%) take a cholesterol-lowering drug
  • 14% use a prescription antidepressant

According to a study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC), of the $2.3 trillion that Americans spent on health care in 2007, somewhere between $500 billion and $700 billion was spent on tests, treatments and hospital stays that did nothing to improve our health. Some of the reasons cited for this trend include:

  • Quantity over Quality—doctors are rewarded for the number of patients they see and the number of treatments they prescribe, rather than the quality of care they provide.
  • The Costs of Medical Malpractice—health care providers are practicing “defensive medicine” to protect themselves against legal actions by ordering more procedures.
  • Consumer Choice—too many people see doctors when they’re not ill and nearly half of all emergency room visits are for medical care that could have been received during a regular doctor appointment.