Health care spending exceeds total assets for one quarter of Medicare recipients

During the last 5 years of life, 25% of Medicare recipients spend more than the total value of their assets on out-of-pocket health care expenses, according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Researchers examined 3,209 Medicare recipients from the 2002 to 2008 Health and Retirement Study during their last 5 years of life and compared their out-of-pocket health care expenditures with their total household assets.

In the 5 years prior to death, the average out-of-pocket expenditures were $38,688 for individuals and $51,030 for couples in which one spouse dies, according to study results. Researchers found 43% of Medicare recipients spend more than their total assets minus the value of their primary residences. Ten percent of spending exceeded total baseline assets and 24% exceeded non-housing assets among individuals survived by a spouse. Study results showed that average out-of-pocket spending varied among illnesses; patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease spend an average of $66,155, whereas those with gastrointestinal disease spend $31,069.

“Medicare provides a significant amount of health care coverage to people over 65, but it does not cover co-payments, deductibles, homecare services or non-rehabilitative nursing home care,” Amy S. Kelley, MD, assistant professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said in a press release. “I think a lot of people will be surprised by how high these out-of-pocket costs are in the last years of life.”

For more information:

Kelley AS, McGarry K, Fahle S, et al. Out-of-pocket spending in the last five years of life. J Gen Intern Med. 2012.

Disclosure: Kelley received funding from the Hartford Foundation.

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