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Medicare Eligibility Linked to Improvements in Health Care Access

Last Updated: October 04, 2022.

TUESDAY, Oct. 4, 2022 (HealthDay News) -- Medicare eligibility and enrollment at age 65 years is associated with improvements in some measures of health care access and affordability, according to a study published online Oct. 4 in PLOS Medicine.

Rahul Aggarwal, M.D., from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and colleagues used cross-sectional data from the National Health Interview Survey for 2019 to examine the association of Medicare eligibility and enrollment with outcomes by income status. The low-income group included 1,660,188 adults aged 64 years and 1,488,875 adults aged 66 years; the higher-income group included 2,110,995 adults aged 64 years and 2,167,676 adults aged 66 years.

The researchers found that Medicare eligibility at age 65 years was associated with reductions in the percentage of low-income adults who delayed or avoided medical care due to costs (14.7 to 6.2 percent and 15.5 to 5.9 percent, respectively) and a larger reduction in the percentage who were worried about or had problems paying medical bills (66.5 to 51.1 percent and 33.9 to 20.6 percent, respectively). No significant associations were seen between Medicare eligibility and measures of cost-related barriers to medication use. A large decrease in worrying about paying medical bills was seen for higher-income adults (40.5 to 27.5 percent), while the decrease in avoiding medical care due to cost was more modest (3.5 to 0.6 percent); no significant association was seen between eligibility and other measures of health care access and affordability.

"As the debate on whether to expand Medicare continues, policymakers should consider the potential implications of doing so on health care access and affordability for low-income adults and, more broadly, health equity in the United States," the authors write.

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