October 28, 2015

Seniors and Medical Bills: The 5 Most Common Causes of Medical Charges

Retiring around age 65 used to be a reasonable goal for the average American; however, improvements in medical research and technology have made retiring that early a lot harder. The Desert Sun reports that in the next decade, the national labor force participation rate for 65 to 74 year-olds could increase by as much as 5%. Many of these senior workers will either be postponing retirement or coming back out of retirement – and they won’t be doing so by choice. the 5 most common causes of medical charges

As one work force policy adviser for the American Association for Retired Persons explained, “People are living longer, and a lot of them are outliving their savings.” But what’s causing the elderly to burn through their savings so quickly? Healthcare is one of the main culprits. A study conducted by the National Center for Policy Analysis revealed that 11.4% of 65 to 74 year-olds’ total expenditures was devoted to healthcare.

Even though people become eligible for Medicare at age 65; due to all of its premiums, deductibles, and coverage exclusions, it is estimated that the program only covers about half of one’s medical costs. Fidelity Investments recently proposed that the average retiree needs $220,000 to cover his or her Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket medical expenses, which indicates that even seniors with health insurance often have to break the bank to pay their medical bills.


1.) Medications

It’s no secret that as we age our health deteriorates. Arthritis, high blood pressure, and depression are just a few of the many health problems that can arise in an elderly person. Of course, with these myriad health problems comes the “need” for prescription drugs as well as the financial burden of having to pay for them.

At the turn of the century, drug expenses totaled nearly one fifth of all out-of-pocket expenditures for seniors. Those in dire circumstances appear to get hit even harder, with estimates that severely disabled elderly persons spend more than half their out-of-pocket health expenditures on prescription drugs. With drug prices persistently on the rise, medications should continue to diminish seniors’ financial resources like nothing else.


2.) Surgeries

After years of use, body parts may start to rebel against their master – and it is only through some medical operation that they can be appeased. This means that older folks who can no longer ignore the anguished cries of their damaged bodies are forced under the knife and left to deal with an onslaught of ensuing medical bills.

Doctors in the United States perform hundreds of thousands of joint replacement surgeries each year, with the most common of these surgeries being total knee replacement. According to Healthline, the average hospital charge for one such surgery is $49,500, which doesn’t include the costs of things like diagnostic tests, physical therapy, or doctors’ visits before and after surgery.


3.) Dental/ Eye Care

The deterioration of teeth and/or vision is merely another byproduct of aging. Unfortunately, unlike surgeries and medications, dental and eye care services are not covered by Medicare. Due to the free or discounted treatments provided by local schools and clinics, as well as organizations like EyeCare America, receiving standard treatments like dental cleanings or eye exams may not be too big an issue for seniors. On the other hand, needing dentures or cataract surgery can prove costly for those who do not have some form of specialized coverage.


4.) Chronic Diseases

Though they are at least somewhat preventable, chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer still account for 7 out of every 10 deaths. Regarding finances, these diseases can be just as lethal to our senior population. Average healthcare costs for someone who has at least one chronic disease are 5 times greater than for someone who does not.

Long-term care, the administering of medical and non-medical care to elderly individuals with chronic diseases or disabilities, is another service that Medicare does not cover. Couple this with the fact that seniors with chronic illnesses may be unable to work and what results is often the accruement of large amounts of medical debt.


5.) Not Doing Their Homework

Avoiding out-of-network doctors, getting second opinions before undergoing surgery, and finding coverage that is right for you are all things that take time and require some research; however, doing them will keep you from having to add a host of unnecessary medical charges to your ledger.

About the Author
Michael Sepke

Michael Sepke is a student at the University of Chicago and content writer at Dispute.