Elder Index at Work: Helping Improve Access to Medicare Savings Programs in Massachusetts

multigeneration portraitThis article is one in a series of stories about how people across the country are using the Elder Index to understand the true cost of living for older adults and its economic implications. If you know someone who would like to receive information about these stories, send us a note at gerontologyinstitute@umb.edu.

The cost of health care is one of the most common economic problems facing older adults across America. In more serious cases, it can lead to a bleak choice between paying for medicine or affording other basic needs.

These are familiar facts of elder life to the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, a grass roots organization focused on public policy and community issues affecting the health and well-being of older adults.

Research on policy options to address the problem led the council to focus on Medicare Savings Programs, which help qualified beneficiaries with health costs. Though the programs are run by the federal government, states have the ability to change eligibility standards for their older adults.

The council launched a campaign to make the Medicare Savings Programs available to more Massachusetts elders. It took years but finally paid off when Gov. Charlie Baker signed the state’s 2020 budget, which included a policy that now offers an estimated 40,000 older adults access to more than $150 million in new annual benefits.

A key resource in the successful effort: The University of Massachusetts Boston’s Elder Index, a free online tool that provides realistic and detailed cost of living data for older adults living in every U.S. state and county. Continue reading

Elder Index at Work: Helping Advocates Address Healthcare Affordability in Washington State

multigeneration portraitThis article is one in a series of stories about how people across the country are using the Elder Index to understand the true cost of living for older adults and its economic implications. If you know someone who would like to receive information about these stories, send us a note at gerontologyinstitute@umb.edu.

By Taryn Hojlo

Medicare is an important resource for millions of older Americans, but that benefit isn’t free and it certainly doesn’t eliminate all other healthcare expenses elders face.

In Washington State, more than a million people were enrolled for Medicare benefits in 2018 and that number has been climbing, as it has across the country as the United States continues to grow older. Some of those people have found Medicare a particular economic challenge.

Northwest Health Law Advocates, a non-profit organization based in Seattle, is focused on older Washington residents who saw some existing healthcare-related benefits eliminated once they enrolled in Medicare. Recently, it has been using the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Elder Index to supplement research and advocacy work around the issue.

“We call it the Medicare cliff,” said Ann Vining, a staff attorney at the organization that has been advocating for affordable, quality health care for all Washington residents since 1999. “If you’re in some relatively lower income brackets, you have some access to some subsidies that you lose when you go onto Medicare.” Continue reading

Elder Index Shows Limits of Social Security to Help Older Adults Afford Basic Cost of Living

Jan MutchlerSocial Security is a critical economic resource for most older Americans but those payments don’t cover even a bare-bones budget in a single county in the United States.

The degree to which Social Security payments can help elders make ends meet depends both on individual circumstances and basic geography. An updated analysis, using the Elder Index™ developed at UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute, recently examined Social Security’s ability to cover basic elder expenses in every U.S. county and state.

“Social Security is incredibly important to older Americans as an economic safety net but it doesn’t fully cover the cost of living anywhere,” said Professor Jan Mutchler. “The effectiveness of that safety net varies a great deal across the county and among individuals. In many cases, it falls far short.” Continue reading

Nearly Two-Thirds of Older Black Americans Can’t Afford to Live Alone Without Help – and it’s Even Tougher for Latinos

Jan MutchlerThis article originally appeared on The Conversation, a non-profit independent online news organization.

By Jan Mutchler

Older Americans who want to live independently face serious economic challenges. Half who live alone don’t have enough income to afford even a bare-bones budget in their home communities, and nearly 1 in 4 couples face the same problem.

Those numbers add up to at least 11 million older adults who are struggling to make ends meet, a new analysis shows.

The numbers are worse for older people of color. Dramatically higher percentages of Black, Latino and Asian older adults live on incomes that don’t meet their cost of living, even with Social Security. That can mean skipping needed health care, not having enough food, living in unhealthy conditions or having to move in with family.

These disparities often reflect lifelong disadvantages that add up as people of color encounter structural racism and discrimination that shape their ability to buy property and save for the future.

To calculate realistic rates of economic insecurity and estimate the disparities, my colleagues and I used the Elder Index, created by the University of Massachusetts Boston to measure the true cost of living for older adults. It tracks expenses for housing, health care, transportation, food and other basics, county by county. We paired the index with state-level income data to determine the percentage of people who don’t have enough income to cover their cost of living. Continue reading

Elder Index at Work: Defending Property Tax-Relief Programs for Older Homeowners in New Jersey

multigeneration portraitThis article is one in a series of stories about how people across the country are using the Elder Index to understand the true cost of living for older adults and its economic implications. If you know someone who would like to receive information about these stories, send us a note at gerontologyinstitute@umb.edu.

Late this spring, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy faced a big problem that was all too familiar to other governors across America. The staggering economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic had created a state budget crisis, with unemployment soaring and new annual revenue projections falling billions of dollars short.

Murphy approached the problem by moving back the start of New Jersey’s next fiscal year from July to October and passing a three-month stop-gap budget to tide the state over. Included in the short-term budget: Cuts to two important property tax-relief programs that help older adults in New Jersey afford to remain in their homes.

This was no small detail. New Jersey homeowners pay the nation’s highest property tax rates, about twice the U.S. average. Nearly 580,000 homeowners benefitted from one of the  programs under the axe and 158,000 others took advantage of the other. Both programs primarily benefitted older homeowners and the combined impact of the cuts was expected to exceed $480 million.

Melissa Chalker, executive director of the New Jersey Foundation For Aging, understood all that. Along with AARP New Jersey and other advocates, Chalker immediately launched a campaign to convince the governor and state legislators to restore the critical programs. One of her key tools in advocacy calls and letters: The Elder Index. Continue reading

UMass Boston Report Finds Far Greater Rates of Economic Insecurity Among Older Adults of Color

Jan MutchlerThe challenging goal of elder economic security – having enough income to live independently and afford a no-frills budget in later life —  is dramatically more difficult for older adults of color across America, new research from the University of Massachusetts Boston shows.

Half of all older adults living alone and 23 percent of older couples are unable to achieve that goal and live with some degree of economic insecurity, according to the McCormack Graduate School’s Gerontology Institute. A new report calculating racial disparities within those numbers shows rates of economic insecurity among Black, Latino and Asian older adults far exceeding those of white adults and the overall national average.

The report also details the economic insecurity levels of older adults of color in individual states and the states in which racial disparities are greatest.

“Economic security is a serious problem for older adults across the United States,” said professor Jan Mutchler, the lead author of the UMass Boston report. “But the situation is much more dire among older adults of color and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has almost certainly made their economic circumstances even worse.” Continue reading

Elder Index at Work: A Texas Area Agency on Aging Tracks the True Cost of Rural Living for Older Adults

multigeneration portraitThis is the first in a series of stories about how people across the country are using the Elder Index to understand the true cost of living for older adults and its economic implications. If you know someone who would like to receive information about these stories, send us a note at gerontologyinstitute@umb.edu.

By Taryn Hojlo

The Alamo Area Agency on Aging has a lot of ground to cover.

The agency serves a dozen rural Texas counties surrounding San Antonio. About a half-million people live in those counties, a combined territory larger than the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware put together.

Trina Cortez was beginning to work on a draft of the Alamo AAA’s upcoming bi-annual area report and she wanted to track correlations between the level of elder expenses and service referrals for members. To do that, she needed a source that could accurately calculate the true cost living for older adults in individual counties.

The agency had struggled to make assessments like that in their previous plans. Then, Cortez discovered the Elder Index. Continue reading

Journal Special Edition Dedicated to COVID-19 and Older Adults: Lessons From the Pandemic

Edward Alan Miller

Editor-in-chief Edward Alan Miller

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on older adults around the world has been nothing short of breathtaking. Like any sudden crisis, it begs a few common questions: What actually happened and how did we respond? What lessons should we take from that experience? And, most importantly, what do we do now?

In a special double-issue of the Journal of Aging and Social Policy, dedicated to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, leading gerontology researchers tackle those questions from a wide range of perspectives. The issue, Older Adults and COVID-19: Implications for Aging Policy and Practice, offers 28 scholarly articles available online free of charge.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated populations and economies globally but older adults have been particularly hard hit, due both to direct exposure to the virus itself and to the adverse consequences of efforts taken to mitigate its effects,” said Edward Alan Miller, a University of Massachusetts Boston gerontology professor and JASP’s editor-in-chief. Continue reading

Turning Gray and into the Red: The True Cost of Growing Old in America

This article originally appeared in The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.

The U.S. population is aging at such a rate that within a few years, older Americans will outnumber the country’s children for the first time, according to census projections. But rising rents, health care and other living costs mean that for many entering their retirement years, balancing the household budget can be a struggle.

To get a better understanding of how much of a struggle, a team at the University of Massachusetts Boston established a benchmark against which to measure the financial security of Americans aged 65 and over. Jan Mutchler is Professor of Gerontology and Director of the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging in the Gerontology Institute at UMass. Continue reading

Half of Single Older Adults in U.S. Lack Income to Pay for Basic Needs

Researchers tracking the economic security of America’s older adults have found that half who live alone and nearly a quarter of those living in two-person households where both are age 65 or older are unable to afford basic necessities without extra assistance.

The 2019 Elder IndexTM and a companion report, Insecurity in the States 2019, calculates the elder economic “insecurity rate” both nationally and on a state-by-state basis. The new index data and report were produced by the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.

Among the states, Massachusetts leads the nation with the highest level of elder economic insecurity for older adults living alone. Seven of the top 10 states in that economic insecurity category, including New York and New Jersey, were located in the Northeast. They were joined by Mississippi, Louisiana, and California. Continue reading