According to a new report issued by U.S. online pharmacy, NiceRx, U.S. citizens over the age of 75 years old are suffering from more medical debt than their younger peers. The report further identified residents in West Virginia as most likely to owe funds to their doctor.
The study found that those over 75 held an average of $17,510 in medical debt each. This is double the amount owed by the cohort aged 35 to 44, who, on average, have $8,895 in medical debt each.
Several treatments are not routinely covered by Medicare, the US-backed health insurance for those over 65. The study’s findings thus suggest that many elderly U.S. citizens have landed into tens of thousands of dollars of medical debt, struggling to pay off treatments that are not covered by Medicare, including ear, teeth, and eye treatments.
It found that nearly a quarter of those in West Virginia were in debt to their hospital, the highest level in any of the U.S. states. For instance, only two percent of Minnesota residents were in medical debt.
The report issued by NiceRx utilized data from the U.S. Census Bureau collected in 2019, the latest data available, to estimate different types of debt across all age groups.
The report used the Survey of Income and Programme Participation data, which collected sample responses from up to 37,000 US households.
The report highlighted significant concerns as medical debt builds up in the U.S. Around two in five U.S. citizens need to cut back on their spending, including on essential groceries and utility bills, to pay their medical bills.
Medicare was introduced in 1965 by the U.S. Government to cover high costs for U.S. citizens over 65 years old, such as hip replacements or if they have suffered from a fall. However, it fails to pay for several more minor, routine appointments and instances like cataract surgery, which is more common amongst the elderly.
The report found that the older age groups were more likely to have previously skipped medical treatments or doctor’s visits due to the costs compared to their younger peers. Further, they admitted to finding it challenging to cover monthly medical expenses such as routine prescriptions.
In concluding the results, NiceRx analysts said that the “age group with the highest level of medical debt is also the oldest.” While this could make sense as older people generally have more health conditions, and they’ll have had longer to accumulate the debt, they also have to balance the cost of this debt with their retirement funds, which can be tricky.
The report further included data on the proportion of U.S. citizens in debt to their healthcare providers state-by-state. It found that those in southern states were most likely to struggle with medical debt compared to the north, which had the top five states with the smallest medical debt.