FLORIDA — The Sunshine State, a destination with a warm climate and diverse cultural experiences, has always been attractive to seniors and retirees. But the cost of living is rising. While the tax burden in Florida remains low, the cost of food and basic necessities has skyrocketed. Add medical bills to the mix, and some seniors are struggling under the burden of debt.
HIGHER MEDICAL DEBT
A new report by Alignment Health reveals that 14 percent of seniors in Florida have outstanding medical debt. In addition, more than 30 percent owe more than three months in living expenses. Seniors on fixed incomes with significant debt often struggle to pay for prescription drugs. Many are forced to choose between groceries or medicine each month.
When asked if they have the resources to pay for their medical debts this coming year, 31 percent of seniors answered “no” or “unsure.” The issue has become problematic, with 21 percent of Florida’s population aged 65 or older.
With an estimated 10,000 people turning 65 in the U.S. each day, the population of older adults will likely double in the next few decades. According to the recent census, more seniors moved to Florida than any other state between 2015 and 2019.
In addition to higher medical costs, seniors are seeing the downsizing of many popular products, from toilet paper to yogurt. “We are in the middle of a wave of shrinkflation,” said Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumer World in an AARP report. Dworsky has tracked “shrinkflation” for the past 30 years. “Some manufacturers are doing both, raising prices as well as shrinking products,” Dworsky said.
Food insecurity, loneliness, and financial instability are the most significant burdens to seniors in the coming years. Adding to the problem, many seniors are seeing their portfolios shrink as the stock market fluctuates and inflation increases nationally.
Many older Americans have trouble making ends meet. The AARP Public Policy Institute estimated that 71% of adults aged 60 and above who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program still need to sign up for benefits.
The AARP works closely with community organizations in Florida to help older adults apply for benefits they’ve already paid for, including low-income subsidies for Part D prescription drug plans and Medicare Savings Programs. AARP plans to expand this program to as many as 22 states next year.
For those living on limited incomes, even a few hundred dollars in monthly assistance can make a big difference in the ability to afford basics like food, housing, transportation, and health care.
But the National Council on Aging – an advocacy group for older Americans – says that tens of billions of benefits are unused annually. Older adults are often more reluctant to seek help and often don’t know whether they qualify or where to go to get help.
“While it is great to see that #SocialSecurity is increasing by 8.7%, this is not going to fully cover the costs for older adults,” Josh Hodges, Chief Customer Officer at the National Council on Aging, tweeted. “And we know that #seniors are the only group that saw increased poverty in 2021. There is more work to do,” Hodges wrote.
HOW TO FIND HELP
Area Agencies on Aging, organizations that are devoted to helping seniors can help assess benefits or refer seniors to other organizations that can help. Waiting until a crisis hits, or until there’s no food left or the electric company is about to turn off the power, is a common mistake.
You can find information about your local Area Agency on Aging by calling the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 on weekdays during business hours. In addition, seniors who are comfortable online can use BenefitsCheckUp, a service of the National Council on Aging, at benefitscheckup.org.