Affordability of Medical Care Among Medicare Enrollees.

View Abstract


Cost-sharing requirements can discourage patients from seeking care and impose financial hardship. The Medicare program serves many older and disabled individuals with multimorbidity and limited resources, but little has been known about the affordability of care in this population.


To examine the affordability of medical care among Medicare enrollees, in terms of the prevalence of delaying medical care because of costs and having problems paying medical bills, and risk factors for these outcomes.

Design Setting and Participants

Cross-sectional analyses conducted from November 1, 2019, to October 15, 2021, used logistic regression to compare the probability of outcomes by demographic and health characteristics. Data were obtained from the 2017 nationally representative Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (response rate, 61.7%), with respondents representing 53 million community-dwelling Medicare enrollees.

Main Outcomes and Measures

New questions about medical care affordability were included in the 2017 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey: difficulty paying medical bills, ongoing medical debt, and contact by collection agencies. A companion survey question asked whether individuals had delayed seeking medical care because of worries about costs.


Respondents included 10 974 adults aged 65 years or older and 2197 aged 18 to 64 years; 54.2% of all respondents were women. The weighted proportions of Medicare enrollees with annual incomes below $25 000K were 30.7% in the older population and 67.4% in the younger group. Self-reported prevalence of delaying care because of cost was 8.3% (95% CI, 7.4%-9.1%) among enrollees aged 65 years or older, 25.2% (95% CI, 21.8%-28.6%) among enrollees younger than 65 years, and 10.9% (95% CI, 9.9%-11.9%) overall. Similarly, 7.4% (95% CI, 6.6%-8.2%) of older enrollees had problems paying medical bills, compared with 29.8% (95% CI, 25.6%-34.1%) among those younger than 65 years and 10.8% (95% CI, 9.8%-11.9%) overall. Regarding specific payment problems, 7.9% (95% CI, 7.0%-8.9%) of enrollees overall experienced ongoing medical debt, contact by a collection agency, or both. In adjusted analyses, older adults with incomes $15 000 to $25 000 per year had odds of delaying care more than twice as high as those with incomes greater than $50 000 (odds ratio, 2.47; 95% CI, 1.82-3.39), and their odds of problems paying medical bills were more than 3 times as high (odds ratio, 3.37; 95% CI, 2.81-5.21). Older adults with 4 to 10 chronic conditions were more than twice as likely to have problems paying medical bills as those with 0 or 1 condition.

Conclusions and Relevance

The findings of this study suggest that unaffordability of medical care is common among Medicare enrollees, especially those with lower incomes, or worse health, or who qualify for Medicare based on disability. Policy reforms, such as caps on patient spending, are needed to reduce Medical cost burdens on the most vulnerable enrollees.

JAMA Health Forum
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Affordability of Medical Care Among Medicare Enrollees.
Madden JM, Bayapureddy S, Briesacher BA, Zhang F, Ross-Degnan D, Soumerai SB, Gurwitz JH, Galbraith AA