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Life Health > Health Insurance > Medicare Planning

Making Medicare Accessible Helps Us All

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What You Need to Know

  • One-third of older adults may be in the wrong plan.
  • Agents can reach people who have no other source of the coverage information they need.

Currently, there are more than 54.1 million Americans aged 65 or over, their physical and financial well-being hinging on a median annual income of $28,000.

More than 80% of them are relying on that income — which falls below minimum standards of living — to help them manage chronic conditions, with 68% struggling to manage two or more of those conditions.

While 96% of older adults are enrolled in the social safety net provided by Medicare, more than one-third of them could be in the wrong plan, resulting in higher out-of-pocket costs, lower coverage, or incomplete service.

An additional 380,000 have no health insurance coverage.

Lack of adequate health coverage for older adults leads to poor health outcomes, including the exacerbation of chronic conditions, missed or avoided doctor’s appointments, and even social isolation.

It is a multi-layered, complex problem that is borne of, and creates, health inequities that erode wellness in communities.

But there is a solution.

Health Inequities for Older Adults Defined

True health equity requires helping all people to achieve and maintain their highest level of health.

However, in the United States, there is ample evidence highlighting the disparities in health care and health outcomes for those accessing social health care programs.

Social determinants of health, including employment, education, income level, ethnicity — and even a person’s neighborhood — can contribute to their ability, or inability, to access health care and maintain wellness.

This is further compounded by barriers in other broad health attainment categories, such as genetics, personal health behaviors, environmental and physical influences, and even the quality of available medical care.

All of this considered, the two most prominent health inequities for older adults of all backgrounds are low health literacy and a lack of attaining affordable health insurance coverage, even though such coverage may be available.

The two often go hand-in-hand and are compounded by overwhelming and conflicting information and uncertainty about who to trust in the insurance enrollment process.

This, in and of itself, can further highlight inequitable community resources and lagging support networks for the unique needs of aging adults.

Why We Need To Address Health Inequities

Health inequities stack against the most vulnerable in ways that the rest of us take for granted.

If a person has access to adequate and affordable health care, but no transportation, they may not go to the doctor.

If that doctor prescribes a healthy diet, but the patient cannot afford groceries or lives in an urban food desert, the instructions are wasted.

And if we attempt to solve health literacy through television programs, but the intended audience has no television, that information will never be seen.

According to the Healthy People 2030 report, roughly 25% of Americans will be aged 65 or older by 2060.

Innovation in health care models and therapeutics in the United States have taken incredible strides over the past decade, yet our health system is not prepared to support older Americans, who are living longer and are at greater risk for significant and chronic illness.

Building a strong foundation for wellness in aging populations now not only benefits those currently in this age group, but also those who will reach this milestone down the road.

Building health literacy empowers people of every age to make better decisions regarding their health and wellness.

Providing community-centered solutions for the basic necessities of wellness — affordable access to health care, transportation, nutritious food, and socialization, as Medicare Advantage plans are currently doing — establishes previously non-existent health equity in vulnerable communities.

This, in turn, reduces health care costs, but more importantly, saves lives, reduces misery, and increases quality of life.

The ripple effects of this level of wellness can positively impact a community for years to come.

What You Can Do

Ultimately, the best way to address health inequities at the community level is by making quality health care and health insurance coverage more accessible in a way that meets the unique needs of every individual.

Local health departments work to provide broad education through mass media and local events.

Doctors talk to their patients.

Sometimes, local authorities even send a mailer.

And this works for those who already have the means, access, education, and support network to take advantage of these resources.

For those lacking this type of social equity, the gap is bridged by licensed local agents who act as health advocates within their own communities.

Local agents specialize in educating their communities on Medicare plans and other health care options, and in helping Medicare-eligible individuals make the best choices for their current and future health care coverage needs.

What’s more, these trusted professionals don’t wait for people to find them: local advocates and agents go out into the community to find those who are most medically vulnerable and ensure they get the health care access they both need and deserve, not only through a health insurance coverage plan, but by recommending the doctors who best serve the community, and even medical transportation services.

In this way, they are one-part social worker, one-part health plan expert, and one-part medical professional.

There’s still room for improvement, however.

That’s where the rest of the community comes in.

Take an active interest in family, friends, and neighbors.

Educate yourself on the ever-changing options early and often.

Most importantly, familiarize yourself with local health advocates and agents — those who live in and understand the community — so you can focus on trusted resources rather than TV commercials or toll-free phone numbers.

This kind of care and attention truly makes a difference in health outcomes, bridges gaps in the system, and supports the health, strength, and vibrancy of communities.

Dr. Darwin HaleDr. Darwin Hale is the CEO and founder of Advocate Health Advisors, a field marketing organization in the Medicare market. AHA supports independent insurance agents serving seniors, veterans, and employee groups.




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