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Medicare Gaps Leave Many With Big Bill at End of Life, Study Finds
Date:9/17/2012

By Barbara Bronson Gray
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Sept. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Many U.S. seniors have trouble saving enough money to handle health care costs beyond what Medicare covers, a new study suggests.

As a result, a significant portion of their savings and other assets go to paying their end-of-life costs when they die.

In the last five years of life, out-of-pocket co-payments and deductibles, and the high cost of home care services, assisted living and long-term nursing home care cause 25 percent of seniors to spend more than their total non-housing assets, the study found.

"The biggest problem for many families is covering long-term care," said study author Dr. Amy Kelley, an assistant professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City.

Kelley became interested in the issue of cost in the final years of life by working with patients and families who are struggling to make decisions while facing financial challenges. "I see it every day. Individuals facing retirement may not be aware of what Medicare doesn't cover," she said.

The study used 2002-2008 data from the federally funded U.S. Health and Retirement Study, conducted at the University of Michigan over the past two decades.

Kelley and her colleagues found that the average out-of-pocket health care spending by households of Medicare recipients in the last five years of life was nearly $39,000. And 10 percent of recipients spent more than $89,000, while 5 percent of recipients spent more than $139,000.

More than 75 percent of households spent at least $10,000, while 11 percent of single and 9 percent of married households spent more than $100,000.

The amount of spending varied with the person's illness. Those with Alzheimer's disease or dementia spent the most for health care, averaging about $66,000, more than double that of those with cancer or gastrointestinal
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