Boomers and Medicare: ‘Indifferent, Nervous, Overwhelmed’

Over one-third don’t understand the program

Twenty-seven percent of boomers surveyed in August said they were “indifferent” about enrolling in Medicare, while 26% said they were “nervous” and 14% said they were “overwhelmed.” The report, released Monday by the National Council on Aging, found that 35% of boomers don’t understand the program while 16% said they didn’t understand it at all.

Almost half of boomers haven’t shopped for cheaper health care coverage than what they can get through Medicare, the survey, conducted by Gfk Roper for the NCOA and United Healthcare, found. The NCOA announced Monday that 41% of those seniors hadn’t shopped around because they didn’t believe they could save any money. However, 59% of those who hadn’t shopped around for new coverage said they hadn’t done so because they are satisfied with their current coverage.

NCOA notes that as the Medicare-eligible population grows by 10,000 people per day, it’s especially important to increase education about Medicare. Almost three-quarters understand that while they can only make changes to their coverage during the annual enrollment period, most are unsure when that period is.

Over two-thirds of respondents said they were not aware of the Medicare Savings Programs, and 53% said they were not aware of the Extra Help program, which helps pay for prescriptions.

“Medicare plans change every year, as do your health needs,” Nora Dowd Eisenhower, vice president of the Benefits Access Group and director of NCOA's National Center for Benefits Outreach and Enrollment, said in a statement. “Older adults should explore their options each year, and they need to know that help is available should they need it, to assist them in making the right choices.”

Uncertainty about the future of Medicare may be contributing to boomers’ seeming unwillingness to utilize those benefits. Just 5% believe Medicare will exist in its current iteration through their retirement years, while 37% believe it will change while they are enrolled. More than half say they don’t know “what the future holds for Medicare.”

The survey also found that the Affordable Care Act is another source of confusion for boomers. Just one-third said they had a “fair” understanding of the law, while half rated their understanding as “poor.” Fifty-seven percent are aware that the reform bill provides coverage for preventive care.

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