More AZ White House Conference on Aging

FEBRUARY 6, 1995 VOLUME 2, NUMBER 31

As mentioned in last week’s Elder Law Issues, the Arizona White House Conference on Aging held in Phoenix a week ago dealt with the issues facing the full White House Conference on Aging when it meets in May. Arizona’s delegation dealt with several issues expected to dominate the national aging agenda.

Health Care and Mental Health

In 1993, expenditures for health care totaled about $903 billion in the United States. Estimates indicate that the total cost of health care may exceed $1.7 trillion by the year 2000. While the overall cost of living increases at less than 5% per year, health care costs increase more than 10% each year.

Elderly citizens are more closely affected by medical problems than the general population. Those over 65 have an average of eight medical visits per year, as opposed to the five visits made by the rest of the population. The elderly are hospitalized more than three times as often as younger patients, stay half again as long in the hospital, and use twice as many prescription drugs. The disparity is widening; elderly patients are expected to increase their contacts with physicians by 22% (from 259 million contacts to 296 million) by the turn of the century.

The federal Medicare program provides medical care to most Americans over age 65 (about 5% of the elderly are not covered by Medicare). In 1995, Medicare recipients pay $46.10 per month(an increase of over 10%) in insurance premiums to secure coverage for most medical care. Costs not covered by Medicare include eye and dental care, most prescription medications, most nursing home care and most mental health care.

In addition to Medicare Part B premiums, many elderly patients pay substantial deductibles and co-payments for their medical coverage. Others (in increasing numbers) rely on managed care (HMO) programs to reduce or eliminate co-payments.

Mental health services are particularly limited by Medicare. While Arizona has one of the highest suicide rates for over-65 patients in the nation, depression and alcoholism (the leading precursors to suicide and other behavioral health problems) are often undetected and untreated. Reimbursement rates and coverages are not conducive to appropriate and prompt treatment.

Elderly patients in rural areas face particular problems with health care. In addition to the other health issues, rural Arizonans have particular difficulties with transportation. In addition, physicians in rural areas are much more likely to refuse to accept Medicare assignment for their services.

[Next issue: “Special” Elderly Populations]

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