Some Rare Good News: Retiree Health Savings Needs Slip

Projections for how much elderly Americans need to save for out-of-pocket health care in retirement have edged lower, due to a provision the federal health reform law that will cover more of their prescription drug costs, according to a new report by EBRI.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) reduces cost sharing in the Medicare Part D “donut hole” to 25 percent by 2020. This year-to-year reduction in coinsurance will continue to reduce savings needed for health care expenses in retirement, all else equal, for individuals with the highest prescription drug use, EBRI reports.

The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) added outpatient prescription drugs (Part D) as an optional benefit. When the program was originally enacted, it included a controversial feature: a coverage gap, more commonly known as the “donut hole.” PPACA included provisions to reduce (but not eliminate) this coverage gap.

Medicare generally covers only about 60 percent of the cost of health care services (not including long-term care) for Medicare beneficiaries ages 65 and older, while out-of-pocket spending accounts for 13 percent (see figure, below).

The EBRI analysis finds 1–2 percent reductions in needed savings among individuals with median (mid-point, half above and half below) drug use and 4–5 percent reductions in needed savings among individuals at the 90th percentile in drug use since its last analysis in 2011.

The full report, “Savings Needed for Health Expenses for People Eligible for Medicare: Some Rare Good News,” is published in the October EBRI Notes, online at www.ebri.org

The press release is online here.

Workers Aging Into Retiree Health Changes

A growing number of workers are realizing they will not get retiree health care from their employer after they stop working, according to a new report by EBRI.

While earlier research found little impact from reductions in coverage on current retirees, EBRI finds that initial changes employers made to retiree health benefits affected future retirees as opposed to then-current retirees. Over time, more and more retirees have “aged into” those program changes, resulting in the greater impact found in more recent studies.

Paul Fronstin, head of health benefits research at EBRI, and co-author of the report, noted that for many years, despite the downward trend in retiree health coverage, many workers still thought they would receive the benefit.

“The data show that workers are still more likely to expect retiree health benefits than retirees are actually likely to have those benefits, but the expectations gap is closing,” Fronstin said. “By 2010, 32 percent of workers expected retiree health benefits, while only 25 percent of early retirees and 16 percent of Medicare-eligible retirees had them.”

The EBRI report, providing current data on trends in retiree health coverage, finds that while many employers no longer offer retiree health benefits, most that have continued to do so have made changes in the benefit package they offer: raising premiums that retirees are required to pay, tightening eligibility, limiting or reducing benefits, or some combination of these.

The full report, “Employment-Based Retiree Health Benefits: Trends in Access and Coverage, 1997‒2010,” is published in the October EBRI Issue Brief, online at www.ebri.org   The press release is online here. The full report is online here.