According to a new study released by the Journal of General Internal Medicine, out-of-pocket medical spending in the last five years of life left one in four American seniors bankrupt.
The study found that average “out-of-pocket expenditures in the 5 years prior to death were $38,688 for individuals, and $51,030 for couples in which one spouse dies.” That average was skewed upwards by staggeringly high out-of-pocket medical spending by seniors who had particularly expensive medical needs. All told, a full “25 percent of subjects’ expenditures exceeded baseline total household assets, and 43 percent of subjects’ spending surpassed their non-housing assets,” according to the report.
The study’s findings underscore the fact that, despite Medicare coverage — which is more efficient and cost-effective compared to private insurance — health care consumption by seniors suffering from costly diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s can often drive up prices to an unsustainable rate.
That represents the simple reality of the costs of treating diseases for which there are still no cures. Seventy percent of national health care expenses derive from just 10 percent of the population, usually by terminally ill Americans.
But when conservative politicians use that figure to justify radical cuts to social safety net programs, their logic simply doesn’t add up. Shifting ailing patients away from publicly financed insurance programs and into the private market only drives up health care costs and uncompensated care rates by forcing people to pursue treatment that they cannot afford — and those policies would simply force even more seniors to exceed their non-housing assets to pay for their medical costs. The solution to this issue lies in finding more cost-effective treatments for costly diseases, not leaving seniors to their own devices to figure out how to pay for their health care.