New U-M poll details anxiety over cost of living, health care for older Americans

When you reach those senior years in life you want to be able to relax and enjoy life, but for many there are a lot of financial concerns- especially when it comes to taking care of health challenges.

A new national poll from the University of Michigan finds the cost of health care is at the top of the list - when it comes to concerns among older adults.

The poll found that 56 percent of people over 50 say they are very concerned about the cost of medical care and nearly as many said the same about the cost of prescription drugs, the cost of health insurance, and dental care were also top concerns.

The director of the university’s Institute for Health Care Policy and Innovation says older adults who struggle with health care costs can make decisions that
might save money in the short run but negatively impact their health.

"What we find is people are making tradeoffs between the costs of their medicines or their medical appointments, and their food or housing or transportation," said John Ayanian. "We also find that sometimes people cut back on the services that they need in their health care, they may take their medicines less frequently not fill their prescriptions for high blood pressure, diabetes.

"They may hold back on seeing the doctor when they have a new symptom that's concerning - and their doctor might be able to help them identify the problem or reassure them that it's not serious."

This concern over multiple kinds of health costs was similar across all older results in the poll regardless of gender, race or where someone lived. Those surveyed were also worried about the cost of home care, assisted living or long-term care.

Outside of health care, a top concern was scam and fraud attempts, in which older adults are increasingly targeted.

"When older adults or adults of any age are faced with a financial scam or fraud attempt, it has a substantial effect on their mental health," said Ayanian. "That can trigger anxiety, depression, a weariness of interacting with others, a loss of confidence if someone is affected by a scam. So these are some of the ways that financial concerns play into mental health and sometimes even physical health."

The hope is that these opinions might impact policymakers - and prompt them to keep working on lowering the cost of healthcare. Also the message is to older adults, make sure you speak up to your doctor or pharmacist, ask for generic medications.

And make sure you understand your insurance plan- which isn't easy for anyone. But you can reach out to a local senior center or area agency on aging - those are good resources to help navigate health care.