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The high cost of health insurance for the elderly

“The major reasons given for not having health insurance coverage were unemployed (75 percent) and an unable to afford coverage (eight percent).” Health Survey of Adults in Bermuda (2011, p. 10), Bermuda Health Council.

This is the latest in a series of articles by Age Concern


in partnership with The Royal Gazette that seeks to highlight the most critical social issues facing the ageing population of Bermuda. Today’s article focuses on how costly health insurance premiums are effecting the most economically vulnerable of our population.

The 2011 Health Survey of Adults in Bermuda, commissioned by the Bermuda Health Council indicated that only six percent of respondents in a representative sample of 801 participants, reported that they did not have health insurance coverage.

While the low percentage of the non-insured seems good news, it is bad news for men; one-person households and; households with income of less than $60,000 per year. These persons were deemed most likely not to have health insurance coverage. The major reasons given for not having health insurance coverage were not having a job and an inability to afford coverage.

The irony of the results of the health survey is that today’s retiree is likely to be unemployed and consequently may also face the same challenges in not being able to afford health insurance coverage over the long-term.

The 2010 Census reported that the median annual pension reached $15,606 for persons receiving pensions aged 55 years and older. If we consider that current Future Care premiums are $7,620 annually, the pensioner whose sole income is $15,606 or below is left with only $7,986 or less per year to survive.

Mrs Mae (who has asked us not to use her real name), a retiree in her mid-60s, became known to Age Concern through our hardship programme. She was having difficulty paying her utility bills and had missed a few payments because her insurance coverage for prescriptions had been all used up for the year. She had another three months before she was entitled to the prescription benefit again.

Without the health insurance coverage, Mrs Mae was faced with an extra expense of $416 in medication costs per month.

“I tried everything that I could beforehand to cut costs so that I would not need any help. I switched insurance coverage from Future Care to HIP, that saved me about $300 and my daughter gave me more financial help but I just couldn’t keep up. My doctor kept cautioning me that my blood pressure was getting higher but I was worrying so much about the bills that I was making myself sick.” she explained solemnly.

Mrs Mae’s combined contributory and widow’s pension is approximately $14, 500 per year, which puts her just below the median annual pension reported in the 2011 Census. Since her initial contact with Age Concern, Mrs Mae reports that she is doing much better.

She discovered that her home had a serious electrical problem and with the help of family the problem has been repaired. Her utility bill has reduced significantly and her daughter has been able to provide her with more help. “It gets hard sometimes,” she explains, “But I am grateful for what I have, especially for my health.”

Often resilient seniors like Mrs Mae comment to the staff at Age Concern that there are many people who are worse off than they are. Unfortunately, this sentiment is often found to be true as is the case of Aunt B and her son Nathan, who have also asked not to be named.

At 75 years old, Aunt B would never have imagined that she would be caring for her blind, chronically ill son. She and her son find themselves in a worsening financial state because after 15 years of employment with a local company, there is no record of pension deductions being garnered from Aunt B’s wages.

At one point, Aunt B purchased Future Care for herself but soon found out that she couldn’t afford it. She eventually acquired HIP but she reports that she could not longer afford HIP either so currently she has no health insurance coverage.

Aunt B’s son’s prescriptions are $1300 per month. In addition to being almost a senior citizen himself, he is completely blind he has suffered three strokes. Aunt B is a homeowner, and reports that she has recently reapplied to Financial Assistance after being initially turned down. Her total pension income is approximately $1,200 per month.

In her initial assessment for help, Aunt B admits that she could have made some better choices. In a recent follow-up phone call to Aunt B she revealed: “We are really struggling.” She had hopes that her son could receive treatment overseas for his condition but admits they have no money for the procedure. They have pursued help through local charitable organisations but such help would require a payment plan that they also cannot afford.

Aunt B asked that Age Concern share her story in the hopes that the public can have an understanding of the plight of people like her. There are of course many possible explanations for why Mrs Mae and Aunt B and her son have endured the trials that they have experienced. Some may argue that these circumstances are the result of self-inflicted consequences; others may conclude that we are all subject to fate, some good some bad.

However, reducing Mrs Mae and Aunt B’s stories to simple judgment or value statements misses the point of the striking similarities of both circumstances. The effects of the rising costs of healthcare are real, they affect real people and are likely to be of a greater negative impact when the person is unemployed or cannot afford to pay for adequate health insurance coverage.

The Ministry of Health has commenced the drafting of a National Health Plan for Bermudians. How much do you know about the plan, its potential affordability and its availability to the unemployed, particularly retired senior citizens and the frail elderly?

If the proposed National Health Plan does not address the critical issues felt by everyday people like Mrs Mae and Aunt B, what then is the viable alternative?

These are questions that every impacted voter should ask before casting a vote. Affordable healthcare is one of the critical issues that is certain to determine the success of our ageing future.

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Published December 03, 2012 at 8:53 am (Updated December 03, 2012 at 8:52 am)

The high cost of health insurance for the elderly

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