Older Americans enrolling in droves


Published Feb 20, 2014 at 12:01AM / Updated Feb 20, 2014 at 01:21AM

For many older Americans who lost jobs during the recession, the quest for health care has been one obstacle after another. They’re unwanted by employers, rejected by insurers, struggling to cover rising medical costs and praying to reach Medicare age before a health crisis.

These luckless people, most in their 50s and 60s, have emerged this month as early winners under the nation’s new health insurance system. Along with their peers who are self-employed or whose jobs do not offer insurance, they have been signing up for coverage in large numbers, submitting new-patient forms at doctor’s offices and filling prescriptions at pharmacies.

Americans ages 55 to 64 make up 31 percent of new health insurance enrollees, the largest segment by age group, according to the latest government figures.

That’s good news, because aging boomers are more likely to be in debt as they enter retirement than were previous generations, with many having purchased more expensive homes with smaller down payments, said economist Olivia Mitchell of University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

As of December, 46 percent of older jobseekers were among the long-term unemployed, compared with less than 25 percent before the recession. And those financial setbacks happened just as their health care needs became more acute. Americans in their mid-50s to mid-60s are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than other age groups, younger or older. And every year after age 50, the rate of cancer diagnosis climbs.

“I just cried I was so relieved,” said Maureen Grey, a 58-year-old Chicagoan who finally saw a doctor this month after a fall in September left her in constant pain.

Signing up younger, healthier enrollees is seen as more difficult but crucial to keeping future insurance rates from increasing.

— The Associated Press