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Survey: Baby Boomers Favor New Health Account

JUNE 28, 2005 -- A Commonwealth Fund survey released Tuesday found "broad-based support" for a special health account to pay for health services not covered by Medicare.

The national survey found that 69 percent of adults ages 50–70 support deducting 1 percent of their earnings for investment in a Medicare Health Account (MHA). The money could be used to help pay for long-term care or other uncovered healthcare expenses.

The proposal is "essentially an account that you save your own earnings in," explained Sara Collins, Commonwealth Fund senior officer and lead author of the report. Conceived of by the Commonwealth Fund as an extension of Medicare, MHAs would not be private investment accounts like those proposed by President Bush for Social Security.

The study also found that 73 percent of adults surveyed ages 50–64 would be interested in buying into Medicare before age 65.

Collins said the interest in alternative health insurance programs is not surprising given older adults' concerns about their financial and health security.

The study found that 15 percent of adults ages 50 to 64 and 22 percent of those 65–70 felt assured they would have enough income and savings for retirement. Three in five between 50 and 70 years old worry that they will not be able to afford medical care in the future.

The survey also says 12 million older adults are uninsured or have histories of unstable coverage.

Older adults with coverage on the individual market tend to have higher premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs, the study said, which leave them "substantially underinsured." Fifty-four percent of adults ages 50–64 with coverage in the individual market spend more than $3,600 per year on premiums. Among their peers with employer coverage, 17 percent pay as much in premiums, as do 6 percent of those with Medicare. The study found that just under a third of older adults with individual coverage are uninsured, compared with 5 percent of those who have employer coverage.

The survey also suggests that low-income older adults are "disproportionately joining the ranks of the uninsured."

The survey was conducted in late 2004 with a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults ages 50–70.

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