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Silver Lining to Pandemic? Health Care Savings

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What You Need to Know

  • Health care expenses for older people dropped dramatically from 2019 to 2020, the survey found.
  • Nearly half of older adults in 2020 spent $375 a month or less, up from 35% in 2019.
  • The pandemic curtailed visits to doctors.

One upside of the pandemic seems to be that people, especially retirees, cut back on visiting doctors and curbed spending on out-of-pocket medical expenses, according to a new survey by The Senior Citizens League, an advocacy group for older adults.

In fact, the survey found almost twice as many participants spent on the high end for health care, more than $1,000 per month, in 2019 than in 2020.

The online survey of almost 1,100 people found the decrease significant between the two years. In 2019, 30% of all respondents spent more than $1,000 a month on health care expenses, while that number dropped to 17% in 2020. The largest number of respondents (29%) in 2020 said they spent between $160 and $375 a month.

Perhaps this is no surprise considering the fear of visiting a doctor’s office or hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This was most likely due to the large number of doctor, medical, dental [and] other visits that were postponed or canceled as our nation awaited vaccines,” said Mary Johnson, a Medicare policy analyst for TSCL, in a statement.

Indeed, 49% of respondents in 2020 stated they spent $375 or less a month on medical costs, including premiums for Medicare Part B, Medigap or Medicare Advantage plans, prescription drug coverage, or dental or vision insurance, along with out-of-pocket costs. Compare that with 2019, in which 35% said they spent $375 or less a month on those expenses.

On the other end, 39% of participants stated they spent over $751 a month in 2019, whereas that was reduced to 24% in 2020. The number of participants who spent between $376 and $750 a month were roughly the same for each year and number of participants.

Johnson told ThinkAdvisor in an email that they’ve done the survey for years, but this year they purposely kept the dollar amounts the same as the “intention was to compare 2020 against 2019,” she said.

Using herself as an example, Johnson, who is 69, said her spending fell 43% year over year. “Since starting Medicare, I can think of no other time since when my health care spending went down by this amount,” she said.