America's Seniors Are Hurtling Toward Financial Doom

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Despite America’s GDP continuing to grow and the president constantly reassuring us the economy is great, the fiscal outlook for many Americans continues to stagnate, and that includes seniors.


According to a study published today by the journal Health Affairs, half of America’s middle-income seniors will be unable to afford housing and healthcare within 10 years. The study, using data from the Health and Retirement Study by the University of Michigan, found that 54 percent of middle-income people who will be over 75 in 2029 “will not have sufficient financial resources” to pay for healthcare or housing costs.

The authors estimated that 81 percent of middle-income seniors who don’t have equity in housing will earn less than $60,000 a year, but the estimated assisted living rent and medical out-of-pocket spending costs will be $62,000. Including housing equity—as in, money that seniors would have to sell their homes to access—39 percent of seniors will have less money than they need to spend just on healthcare and assisted living expenses.

These expenses don’t include things like food, utilities, or any of the other myriad expenses of life—let alone things like gifts for their grandchildren or vacations, the stuff that should make seniors’ lives joyful and full. In 2029, for most middle-income seniors, it will be too expensive to simply be alive and living in a safe place.

(If that isn’t bad enough, the figure may actually be too low, too. The authors estimated that average out-of-pocket medical expenses for seniors would be $5,000, which they say “is at the very low end of average seniors’ medical expenses, especially for those older than eighty-five with multiple chronic conditions and functional limitations.”)

Medicare as it is today doesn’t cover all health costs, and seniors spend thousands on health costs each year. Last year, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that medical costs already represent 41 percent of Social Security income for Medicare households. Those in poor health report spend more, an average of $6,128 per year, according to KFF. Some seniors, like those prescribed specialty drugs, can spend thousands a year on drug costs alone.

Medicare for All isn’t just an imperative for those stuck with awful employer insurance or on the Affordable Care Act marketplace. It would improve the existing Medicare for seniors who are currently spending their twilight years struggling with healthcare costs, and it would cover the cost of long-term care. It’s a simple premise, really: Being old and not rich should not condemn you to misery and early death in the richest country in the world.

Splinter politics writer.