Older Americans are early winners under health law

People in their 50s and 60s signing up for coverage in large numbers
Associated Press
Feb 17, 2014


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.

"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. Laid off twice from full-time jobs in the past five years, she saw her income drop from $60,000 to $17,800 a year. Now doing temp work, she was uninsured for 18 months before she chose a marketplace plan for $68 a month.

Americans ages 55 to 64 make up 31 percent of new enrollees in the new health insurance marketplaces, the largest segment by age group, according to the federal government's latest figures. They represent a glimmer of success for President Barack Obama's beleaguered law.

The Great Recession hit them hard and for some its impact has lingered.

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. One in five has unpaid medical bills and 17 percent are underwater with their home values. Fourteen percent are uninsured.

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, accounting for 3 in 10 of the adult diabetes diagnoses in the United States each year. And every year after age 50, the rate of cancer diagnosis climbs.

The affordable coverage is "an answer to a prayer really," said Laura Ingle, a 57-year-old Houston attorney who had been denied coverage repeatedly because she has sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disease. She recently had back surgery for a painful condition that's been bothering her for months.

One night in September, 64-year-old Glenn Nishimura woke up with wrenching pain that sent him to the emergency room. It was his gallbladder. A doctor recommended surgery.

Instead, Nishimura went home. A consultant to nonprofit groups, he was self-employed and uninsured.

"I checked myself out because I had no idea what this was going to cost," the Little Rock, Ark., man said. "They didn't want me to go, but they didn't stop me."

Nishimura lost his coverage after leaving a full-time position with benefits in 2007, thinking he could land another good job. The recession ruined that plan. After COBRA coverage expired, he was denied coverage because of high blood pressure and other conditions.

He made it until September without a major illness. A second night of gallbladder pain and a chat with a doctor persuaded him to have the surgery. After getting the bills, he negotiated the fees down to $12,000, which he considered "a big hit, but it could have been worse." The average cost of a gallbladder removal in Arkansas was listed at three times that. Nishimura dipped into his savings to cover the bill.

In December, he chose a bronze plan on the new insurance marketplace that costs him $285 a month after a tax credit. The deductible is $6,300, so he hopes he doesn't have to use his coverage. He can get on Medicare in April, just in time for his annual checkup.

"Now there's the peace of mind of knowing the limits of my obligation if I have catastrophic health needs," he said.

Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger said he's noticed a recent increase in patients in this age group at his family practice in Miami. Lots of them have untreated chronic conditions that have progressed to an advanced stage.

"Many have delayed necessary treatments due to costs and expect a total and quick workup on their first visit," he said, adding they want referrals to specialists and tests including colonoscopies and mammograms.

The abundance of older patients signing up is no surprise to the Obama administration, which conducted internal research last year that showed the "sick, active and worried" would be the most responsive to messages urging them to seek coverage.

Signing up younger, healthier enrollees is seen as more difficult, but crucial to keeping future insurance rates from increasing. The administration said those age groups may put off enrolling until closer to the March 31 deadline.

"We have always anticipated that those with more health needs would sign up early on, and that young and healthy people would wait until the end," administration spokeswoman Joanne Peters said.

Some of the aging boomers were determined to get coverage in the marketplace, despite repeated problems and frustration with the federal website.

The hours spent online and over the phone paid off for real estate agent Greg Burke and his beautician wife, Pat. The empty-nesters qualified for a tax credit that will lower their monthly health insurance premiums by nearly half.

The Burkes, from Akron, Ohio, are among the 38 percent of marketplace enrollees in the state between 55 and 64 years old. He's 61 and had a knee replaced six years ago.

They will now spend $250 a month for health insurance, "a huge savings," Greg Burke said. Their deductibles also dropped from $2,500 each to $750 each, meaning they will pay less out of pocket.

In Miami, licensed practical nurse Marie Cadet, who is 54, often works double shifts to make ends meet for herself and her 12-year-old daughter. She had been paying more than $150 a month for health insurance, with a $3,000 deductible. In effect, she paid most medical costs out of her own pocket, including about $80 a month for blood pressure medicine.

After choosing a plan from the marketplace, Cadet's monthly payment dropped to $86 a month, with the government kicking in $300. Her deductible fell to a more affordable $900.

"Now," Cadet said, "I'm not scared anymore."



The Big Dog's back

Ut oh, the Repub base is getting healthcare.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Ut oh, your tax dollars are directly profiting private corporations.

It's funny how of the few pieces of anecdotal evidence (which by no means goes into ANY detail about the situations or plans of the subsidy recipients) that there was no inclusion of other vague examples of people hurt or imposed upon by this law.

This is it, America. We actually can't seem to do better than this because this miracle made, read, and passed by flawless angels is the envy of the world. The Republicans continue to beat the dead ACA horse saying "we know it's dead" without offering any follow through and the Democrats want to cling onto the same dead horse weeping "he'll be fine, really, he's just a little sick...his head can be reattached, really, please don't bury it! Just put some stitches in it and it'll be fine again."


Bravo Hero!
Lol... "We know it's dead"... Lol... "he'll be fine...."


Re: "his head can be reattached,"

The movie is available on YouTube:


The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

In that case you, me, Sam, grumpy, and some others have been giving this the "MST3K" treatment!

The Big Dog's back

Keep clinging to that theory, you know, the theory of hey old people, we're going to take away your newly gotten healthcare.


Re: "we're going to take away your newly gotten healthcare."

When the borrowing, printing, taxing and spending SHTF, it'll be one h*ll of lot more than "healthcare" goin' bye-bye.

Keep dreamin'.


I saw a lot of percentages, but no mention of exactly how many people in this age group are benefiting from this 'road of good intentions'. It just seems odd the magnitude of this success is not emphasized with the actual numbers that this article tries to imply is working out as well as the people who initiated this benevolent act intended.


About 3.3 million have coverage under ACA acording to Politico a few days ago.

So, 31% of 3.3 million would be about 1.03 million people. "What difference does it make" if you are given a percent or a number. The numbers are kind of easy to google.


Can't be true as the Obama administration is spewing out a lie that indicates approximately 9 million have signed up.


Again my Dear,... Why aren't the actual numbers publicized?
Is someone afraid they may have to backtrack later?


Enjoy it while you can! Once the numbers start to shake out and they figure out that not enough young people are signing up to balance financial numbers you will get the increase letter.


I wonder if these are the same folks who had their coverage dropped because of the ACA. 3.3 million is still smaller than the 5-7 million who lost theirs.


I refuse to buy into this crap. If I die first, my spouse goes into a nursing home because of his disability. If he dies first, the social security is going to be less for me to live on. Either way, we can't afford to pay for corporate america to keep ripping off the public.

local man

IN reality anyone not getting a subsidy will discover that these health plans at all levels are unaffordable regardless of your age.


Without the "young Invicibles" signing up, these 'affordable' premiums ain't gonna last for long.

Truth or Dare

Making it "the law of the land" doesn't make it any more affordable and in most cases it's actually more expensive. There is an old saying, you can't get blood out of a turnip. Way I see it, until every tax-funded paid employee of this country has to sign up for it and pay themselves, I'm not. By the way, I do, I do, I do believe they're fudging the numbers.


Isn't auto ins. mandatory in all 50 states?

It's been estimated that in states like TX and CA, approx. 30% of the drivers have no ins.

Let's just move on to 'single payer,' so we can get this long slow death of the progressive-socialists pushing the U.S. into fiscal and monetary bankruptcy over and done with!


Older people signing up? Uh huh. Not a lot of them, but a lot more of them than the YOUNGER people needed to FUND this pyramid boondoggle! (And nowhere NEAR the numbers that lost coverage they were perfectly happy with.)

I notice that, although the high deductible is mentioned in this story, it's NOT noted that a bronze plan only covers 50%-60% of expenses, and the rest are still yours. It's ALSO not discussed that, at least for the first year, there's NO MAXIMUM OUT-OF-POCKET. Despite that, premiums are STILL high!

Go ahead and blame the "big business" insurance companies. It's not their fault. They're being forced to provide all sorts of "free" services, and those have to be covered somehow! Blame, instead, the minimum requirements of Obamacare, many of which most of us don't want or need.

This mess is going to collapse. That much is obvious. The only real questions now are how much damage will be done to the economy and just how adverse the effects on the healthcare system itself will be before it's finally, FINALLY become history!


Oops! Say it ain't so!

The Latinos aren't signing up:


Time to spend a couple more million dollars of taxpayer money to fund 'funny' commercials?

Steve P

One of the hosts on PMSNBC was having an orgasm that many people now will be liberated from working full time just for health insurance under the unaffordable health care disaster, I am sure piddle pup and deerdong joined in.. He also saw nothing wrong with middle age and younger workers paying more and having higher deductibles than they did before.


Re: "liberated from working full time just for health insurance,"

Just wait until we arrive at the progressive-socialist's "Land of Cokaygne" along with the single payer.

Since it'll be free, EVERYONE can quit work and pursue their passions.

The Big Dog's back

Single payer, YES!


Wow. You must really make a lot of money! Otherwise, how could you favor single payer? Taxes will skyrocket to pay for it. Most countries that have single payer have tax rates that make ours look paltry. I personally can't afford a bigger tax hit, but if you're prepared to lose more than half of your income right off the top, then I'd like to request you send me some of it right now! I could sure use the extra! Or better yet, send it to somebody who can't pay their heating bills this winter. I mean, you're all about helping people using other people's money, right? Why not put some of YOURS where your big mouth is, eh?

The Big Dog's back

Kinda like the rich getting richer off of other people's money, blood, sweat and tears?

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Buying into that tired thought, how else do you "get rich"?


The amount of money isn't finite. Example is the Federal Reserve has been printing 80 billion a month for years.

You don't get rich by taking money from someone else. You get rich mainly by making more than you spend, and investing what you save, or by selling something others want, be it a service like a doctor, lawyer, selling a product like cars, or tampons.

The Big Dog's back

"You don't get rich by taking money from someone else."
What a stupid statement. They're taking it by way of cheap labor. Stupid.


People who work for others and are rich don't make money from laborers. Look at actors, sports folks, people who are executives at unions (well those do take money from folks cheap labor), car companies, investors and more who don't hire "cheap" labor.

Talk about stupid statements. There are many ways to get rich without hiring cheap labor. That would be a small percentage of what is called "rich".

What is your definition of "rich"? Grossing more than $300,000 per year? Having several million in assets? Someone making 25% more than you? Having no mortgage or car payments? Difficult to have a discussion about rich people without knowing where the lines are as to what rich is... or isn't.

First request.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

I wish you luck to get the blood from the turnip. I've tried before with AJ Oliver, coasterfan, and Big Dog but none can supply a fixed definition of the terms they use such as "middle class". Instead they will just berate you for not knowing and smile, chuckling at each other presuming they each know without offering a definition to themselves. If they just repeat it over and over I think the expectation is that you will just think they know what it means and use you to empower their imaginary concept. If they fail to support others who say it then the illusion is lost so it builds a collective need to sustain...nothing.

While I am not atheist, anyone of that persuasion could draw a parallel to organized religion I'm sure.

thinkagain's picture

Rich is a state of mind. Being happy with what you have.