An increasing number of older Americans are filing for bankruptcy, with long-term care costs often one of the driving factors, according to a new study.
The rate at which seniors (65 and over) file for bankruptcy has more than doubled since 1991, researchers found. The percentage of elders in the bankruptcy system, meanwhile, has nearly quintupled. The magnitude of that growth has been so great that the broader graying of the U.S. population “can explain only a small portion of the effect,” authors note.
Data, derived from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, shows that seniors report they’re struggling with inadequate income and unmanageable costs of healthcare. The median bankruptcy filer reported a negative wealth of more than $17,000, compared to positive wealth of more than $250,000 for their non-bankrupt counterparts, according to “Graying of U.S. Bankruptcy: Fallout from Life in a Risk Society,” which was published earlier this month.
The implications for long-term care providers are unsettling: More seniors less likely to pay their own bills, meaning more residents covered by low-paying Medicaid.
“For an increasing number of older Americans, their golden years are fraught with economic risks, the result of which is often bankruptcy,” study authors noted.
The Detroit Free Press reported that surging bankruptcies for elders correspond with a drop in retirement benefits across the country, with many companies phasing out pension plans. Policymakers are challenged with figuring out a way to respond to this trend, as medical costs swell and the population rapidly ages.
“We’re most definitely going to have to address it,” Paul Bridgewater, president and CEO of the nonprofit Detroit Area Agency on Aging, told the Free Press. “We’re compiling the data to come up with solutions. But across the board, as the baby boomers go into retirement, there are going to be a number of situations that we’ve never had to deal with.”