Economic security and the cycle of choice

By Brandy Bauer, Associate Director, Center for Benefits Access, National Council on Aging

Financial and physical health are intertwined. Improved economic security will lead to improved health, and better health means more economic security—improving an individual’s cycle of choice and opportunity. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is working to improve older adults’ economic security to boost positive outcomes for their physical well-being.

How economic security impacts health

Economic factors affect not only access to healthcare, prescriptions and nutritious food, they also shape healthy behaviors, which can improve and extend life.

A survey conducted by NCOA found that financially insecure older adults often make trade-offs to save money that endanger their health and well-being. For example, they may:

  • Cut pills in half or skip a dosage, thus lowering the efficacy of medications.
  • Skip meals, thereby increasing nutrient deficiencies.
  • Forgo needed home/vehicle repairs, increasing their risk of accidents or falls—the latter being the leading cause of fractures, hospital trauma admissions and injury deaths among older adults.

These short-term trade-offs may mean long-term impacts on overall health.

The role that public benefits play in improving seniors’ health

Numerous public benefit programs are available to help older adults free up financial resources and enable them to meet critical health needs. These benefits also are proven to reduce the burden and costs on the healthcare system.

  • The Medicare Savings Programs—administered and paid through state Medicaid agencies— make premiums and cost-sharing for Part B physician services affordable for low-income beneficiaries.
  • The Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy (Extra Help) helps seniors and younger adults with disabilities to afford medications and increase prescription adherence, which in turn helps them better manage chronic conditions and reduce falls.
  • Access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/Food Stamps) reduces hospital admission rates and the need for emergency room visits among older adults, and on average can save $2,100 a year in medical costs. SNAP assistance facilitates healthier eating, which also can lessen the adverse side effects of chronic conditions.
  • Utility benefits such as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) offset the costs of heating and cooling one’s home, thereby reducing respiratory disease symptoms and emergency room visits.

Where to learn more about these programs

NCOA’s BenefitsCheckUp® is the nation’s most comprehensive free, online service to screen seniors with limited income for over 2,500 public and private programs across the country. More than 7 million people have used BenefitsCheckUp® to identify benefits valued at over $27 billion to help them pay for medicine, food, healthcare, rent, utilities and other daily needs.

Other available resources

A BenefitsCheckUp® screening will produce a personalized report that includes information on where and how to apply, including links to downloadable or online applications when they are available.

But sometimes older adults—or someone helping them—needs further assistance. NCOA supports a network of Benefits Enrollment Centers that can provide one-on-one guidance with screening for benefits and filling out applications. See if one serves an area near you.

Another valuable resource is the Eldercare Locator, a program of the U.S. Administration for Community Living. From Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, anyone can call 1-800-677-1116 to connect to their local agency that can assist with financial needs. Even if someone doesn’t qualify for benefits, the Eldercare Locator can identify other places to go in the community for assistance.

Remember: Healthy aging and wellness do not begin and end at the healthcare provider’s office. Maximizing financial resources enables older adults to reduce stress on their bodies and their wallets.