His bill aims to raise the eligibility requirements for the Medicare Savings Program
Countless heartbreaking stories from seniors in his community prompted New Jersey Congressman Andy Kim to introduce legislation he says will reduce healthcare costs for them and more than 4 million Americans over the age of 65.
There was the resident of Waretown, N.J., who told Kim (D-NJ) he sometimes spends more than $1,000 out-of-pocket each month for his prescription drugs. There’s the older woman he met who has to ration her food because she spends so much on healthcare. Then there was the wheelchair-bound constituent who can’t afford to pay for transportation and has to ride his motorized wheelchair two miles to the bus if he wants to go to the doctor. Even Kim’s own mother “stays up late at night, looking at her bank account, crunching the numbers, and trying to see if she can make ends meet.”
“It’s really heartbreaking to know that this is happening in my community,” Kim said.
Kim’s Helping Seniors Afford Healthcare Act would increase the income eligibility threshold for Medicare recipients to qualify for the Medicare Savings Program, an initiative that provides financial assistance to help eligible seniors pay for their healthcare costs, including premiums, copayments, and prescription drug costs.
More than 6.8 million seniors with Medicare currently qualify for the Medicare Savings Program, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data provided by Kim’s office. Kim’s bill would raise the income eligibility limit for the program, which he says would allow an additional 4.6 million seniors to access the Medicare Savings Program — a 68 percent increase in the number of eligible individuals.
While each individual’s savings would vary based on income and healthcare needs, Kim is confident his bill would make a substantive difference, particularly for low-income seniors.
He hopes the savings will allow struggling seniors to “use that money and make sure that they can get a good meal, they can get a good roof over their head, and they can get some transportation help to be able to get to the doctor more regularly,” he said.
The legislation, which Kim introduced with Reps. Dwight Evans (D-PA) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE-At large), has already been endorsed by advocacy groups FamiliesUSA, Justice in Aging, and the Medicare Rights Center.
“By extending eligibility for this program and helping more low-income seniors, this bill would help even more folks safeguard their financial security, their savings, and help them access the life-saving medical services and medications they need,” said Jane Sheehan, Senior Manager of Federal Relations for FamiliesUSA.
Healthcare costs vary widely, but on average, a 65-year old couple retiring in 2019 should expect to spend $285,000 in healthcare and medical costs throughout retirement, up from $245,000 in 2015, according to an analysis from Fidelity Investments. For single retirees, the healthcare cost estimate is $150,000 for women and $135,000 for men.
The consequences of rising healthcare costs are profound, especially for older Americans. Seniors have withdrawn an estimated $22 billion from long-term savings to cover their healthcare costs, according to a March 2019 report from West Health and Gallup.
The report also found that more than 7 million seniors are unable to pay for their prescription drugs, while one out of every 10 seniors did not seek treatment in the past year due to the cost of care.
These rising costs have dampened many seniors’ views on America’s healthcare system. Seventy-three percent of seniors reported being concerned that healthcare costs would continue to rise, according to a poll included in the West Health and Gallup report.
As for how to address the issue, the poll found that three out of four seniors say the government is not doing enough to make healthcare affordable.
Kim is trying to fill that void with his legislation, which he is determined to pass. “I’m not interested in doing a bill that’s just some show pony here trying to make a point. This is about trying to get something done,” Kim said.
If Kim’s bill clears the House, it would be just the latest effort from House Democrats to address rising healthcare costs. They’ve already passed multiple bills in their efforts to address rising healthcare and drug costs, but the Republican-led Senate has refused to consider any of them.
Despite the fact that Kim’s working in a divided government, he remains motivated by the plight of seniors.
“It just really pains me to see that in the richest, most powerful country in the world, that our seniors — those that helped build this country, those that gave a lifetime’s worth of work and did it right, did it fair — that they’re not able to live a life of dignity and respect,” Kim said. “It’s really tough and it’s something that just motivates me each and every day to try and deliver for them.”