June 26, 2023

Millions of insured older Americans face unpaid medical bills

Medical debt for older Americans with health insurance is on the rise: New research published by the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection’s Office for Older Americans found that while 98% of people age 65 and older have health insurance through enrollment in programs like Medicare, many are still inundated with unpaid bills for medical care.

Nearly 4 million seniors were unable to pay their medical bills in full in 2020, the latest year for which data is available, according to the report. More than two-thirds of people with unpaid bills had coverage from more than one source, such as Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, Medigap, employer-based coverage, or Tricare, the military general health plan.

The median amount of unpaid medical bills reported by seniors in that period was $13,800, up 20% from $11,700 in 2019. That translates to an increase in unpaid medical bills among seniors of $44,800 million in 2019 to $53.8 billion in 2020.

The most common causes are out-of-network charges, deductibles and other cost-sharing fees, services not covered by Medicare, as well as frequent and complex medical care and limited income, according to the researchers. However, the main reason for falling behind is medical billing errors.

“Older adults are more likely to have complicated health needs that require a large amount of documentation,” said Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance. “This can lead to payment delays, errors in who is billed, and providers inappropriately seeking reimbursement. Whenever possible, patient advocates advise working with your health care providers to make sure a procedure is covered before you receive care.”

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