27.09.2020

Seniors in US are sicker, poorer than in other countries

Compared to other countries, Americans are the sickest, and most concerned about their ability to afford healthcare, with one-quarter worried what they spend on their health, or even basic necessities like housing and nutritious food.

American seniors are sicker than over-65s in 10 other high-income countries, according to a new international survey. More than one-third of older people in the US reported that they have more than one chronic condition.

People over 65 make up about 15 percent of the entire US population, but the survey found many felt they were unable to get the day-to-day-assistance they need.

American seniors are more likely than people in any of 10 other countries to suffer from multiple chronic illnesses, and to not be able to afford the health care that they need, according to the results of an international survey from the Commonwealth Fund.

Every year, the Commonwealth Fund surveys older people in 11 countries, asking: ‘What is it like to age and be sick in your health care system?’ according to its press release. The survey was sent to seniors in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the US.

Of those countries, the US has by far the largest economy in terms of its gross domestic product. More than 20 percent of American seniors reported that they spent $2,000 or more out of pocket on medical expenses in the last year. That was second only to Switzerland.

In spite of their high medical expenses, nearly one-quarter of the American survey respondents said that they had skipped doctor visits because they were afraid of costs. What’s more, the sicker American seniors were, the more likely they were to be unable to afford their medical care, according to the survey.

Instead, 15 percent of the Americans reported that they had gone to the emergency room for health concerns that would have been treatable by other providers, if they had been available.

Emergency room visits typically come with far greater costs and wait times for patients of all ages. Seeing specialists or general practitioners on a regular basis cuts costs and improves the odds that seniors get preventative treatment.

In many cases, patients got to emergency rooms simply because they do not have regular health care providers or insurance.

Many seniors need assistance with day-to-to day activities, like dressing, grocery shopping and meal preparation, but 24 percent of Americans said they could not afford the help. That number was four times the rates in countries like the UK and France.

According to data from 2014, the average cost of a one-bedroom unit in an assisted living facility in the US is $3,500, and those rates have only been rising.

In the same year, the average monthly social security check would have covered less than half of that living expense, at $1,294.

‘In the U.S. we are hearing loud and clear that many of our seniors, especially those who are sickest, need more support if they are going to get the health care they need and live healthy lives,’ said Commonwealth Fund president Dr David Blumenthal.

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