Americans’ Health Insurance Struggles: Could it Drive a Call for Lowering Medicare Age?

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Our healthcare system is flawed. The process of obtaining health insurance is best catered to employed folks or seniors citizens on Medicare. But what about middle-aged folks, unemployed, or those who chose early retirement?  A new report from GoHealth (leading health insurance marketplace and Medicare-focused digital health company) reveals some of the biggest insurance challenges facing middle-aged Americans:

  • 23% of unemployed Americans lost their job due to COVID-19 and 17% of unemployed Americans are uninsured.
  • For those retired (aged 55+) and not on Medicare, 18% rely on insurance through a spouse’s / partner’s employer, which unfortunately, isn’t a viable long-term option.
  • Compare this to the majority (55%) of working Americans who rely on their employer’s or spouse’s (13%) health insurance.
  • Despite circumstances, Americans are worried about their insurance options with roughly half of working (57%) and non-working (49%) folks under 65 concerned about affording health insurance until they reach the eligibility age for Medicare.

To fill the health insurance gaps for middle-aged Americans that need affordable, quality healthcare, President-elect Biden is rallying to lower the age of Medicare eligibility. But American seniors have differing opinions on the proposal: 

  • Of those aware of current Medicare proposals to lower the eligibility age, most employed (67%) and non-working (61%) Americans are in support.
  • Meanwhile, less than half of current beneficiaries (49%) that are aware of current proposals to lower the eligibility age are in support.
  • Why? Three in four (76%) Medicare beneficiaries would not be okay with their premiums increasing as a result of lowering the eligibility age.

Melissa McGregor, a Consumer Insights Analyst at GoHealth, responded to a few questions about what healthcare policy leaders and insurance companies must consider as they look to improve affordability, access, and new plans.

Based on your research, what are the biggest concerns among older Americans as they reach Medicare eligibility?

Many older Americans are concerned about their health insurance options, especially when it comes to affordability. In fact, our Aging into Medicare report found that 62% of unemployed and 57% of employed older Americans (under the age of 65) said they are worried about their ability to afford health coverage until they reach the Medicare eligibility age. 

This is such a concern for older Americans that many are planning to make accommodations in order to afford health insurance until they hit 65. A few findings from our report include that some older Americans plan to reduce how many groceries/household items they purchase (17% employed; 15% of unemployed), limit their preventative care appointments (16% employed; 18% unemployed), and even downsize to a small apartment or condo (11% employed; 6% unemployed) to open up budget for their health insurance. Taking these extreme measures shows just how concerned seniors are about their health insurance coverage.

What do these results mean for the debate around lowering the age of Medicare?

One of the most interesting findings from our research is that the majority of older Americans are not even aware of any plans or proposals that would lower the Medicare eligibility age. In fact, 68% of employed and 65% of unemployed Americans said they’ve not heard of any plans or proposals. Medicare beneficiaries were the most likely to be aware of current proposals to lower the eligibility age, but it was still only a small group (28% report being aware of such plans).

Although awareness remains low, the majority of older Americans are in support of lowering the age of Medicare. Interestingly, overall awareness had little to do with their support for this proposal:

  • Of those that were aware of proposals to lower the eligibility age, 64% of non-Medicare respondents and 49% of Medicare beneficiaries were in favor.
  • Of those that were not aware of proposals to lower the eligibility age, 70% of non-Medicare respondents and 58% of Medicare beneficiaries were in favor, particularly if there’s a plan to prevent cost hikes or underfunding.

This shows that Americans are open to making affordable, high-quality health coverage widely available to more Americans. However, it also reveals that there are some concerns around costs. Overall, our research sheds light on the fact that health insurance coverage can cause financial and emotional strain in people’s lives. 

How can seniors nearing eligibility best approach the Medicare market?

The Medicare market can be very confusing to navigate. There are so many coverage options and resources available that many don’t even know where to begin. In our research from earlier in the year, we found that two in five Americans nearing eligibility (42%) haven’t started reviewing their Medicare options and roughly half (47%) don’t know where to start.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to finding a Medicare plan. It’s important that seniors pick the plan best suited for their lifestyle, health conditions and budget. Our biggest piece of advice is that every person nearing eligibility or already eligible should discuss their needs with a licensed insurance agent or advisor – someone that is unbiased and can help the beneficiary understand and compare their options.

These agents are experts in the market and will guide seniors through the process of identifying the plan that is right for their unique needs, enrolling in it, and then reevaluating plan needs over the course of time. Rather than relying solely on recommendations from friends and family – or worse, going through the process on their own – leveraging a knowledgeable, licensed Medicare agent not only ensures they’re setting themselves up for success in the right plan, but also eases the stress and confusion that can come with the Medicare system.

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