Most Older Americans Confident in Navigating Healthcare System

October 13, 2019
MHE Staff
MHE Staff

However, survey results show that many believe better understanding their benefits would empower them in managing their health.

A majority (79%) of older Americans aged 60 years and over are prepared to age well, but nearly 7 in 10 (68%) are at least somewhat concerned about their health as they age, and nearly half (46%) need help understanding their health insurance benefits once they have chosen a plan.

A survey conducted by The Harris Poll, commissioned by Anthem, Inc. and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), reveals that while most respondents are confident in some aspects of navigating the healthcare system, there is opportunity for better understanding of their benefits, bill, diagnosis, and treatment.

“Each year, local Area Agencies on Aging serve and support millions of people across the country who are having difficulty understanding and navigating the healthcare system and their benefits,” says Sandy Markwood, n4a CEO. “As the go-to organization for answers on aging at the local level, n4a’s members know how important it is to engage in dialogue with older adults and understand the barriers they confront in receiving the healthcare information that they need and deserve. This is why, in partnership with Anthem, we commissioned this survey and we look forward to working together to address these obstacles.”

Among the respondents, 65% reported that they had some type of Medicare insurance coverage. More than 8 in 10 of older adults expressed confidence in: finding a provider that accepts their insurance (88%); understanding insurance options available to them (84%); and understanding their health insurance benefits (83%).

Despite this confidence, 42% believe better understanding their insurance benefits would empower them to better manage their health.

Many (59%) of older adults still find at least one thing difficult when navigating the healthcare system, such as understanding their benefits; understanding their diagnoses, and deciding on treatment; and communicating effectively with their healthcare providers.

They currently seek out the following resources to help them better navigate the healthcare system: talking to their doctor (43%); consulting their health insurance provider (26%); and having a patient navigator who helps them navigate the logistics of their care and the healthcare system (23%).

Many non-retired older Americans need help understanding benefits 

Employment plays a large role for older Americans when it comes to understanding their healthcare plans. According to the survey: more than half of non-retired older adults at least somewhat agree that they need help understanding their benefits once they have chosen a plan, compared to about two in five retired adults (54% vs. 41%, respectively); and more than three in five non-retired adults would like to work with a Medicare education counselor compared to fewer than half of retired adults (61% vs. 47%, respectively).

Related:Baby Boomers And Millennials Want More Frequent Communication

Women report challenges in managing their care; men ask for help 

Detailed findings highlight unique attitudes and challenges that each gender experiences when it comes to understanding, affording, and accessing care.

According to the survey, women are more likely than men to report at least one challenge with navigating the healthcare system (65% vs. 52%, respectively), such as communicating effectively with their healthcare provider, knowing their health plan benefits, and understanding their diagnoses and treatments.

In addition, women are less likely than men to feel confident about having all the information they need to make health insurance decisions (77% vs. 84%, respectively). Men are more likely than women to agree that consulting their health insurance provider to better use the system would help them navigate the healthcare system better (31% vs. 23%, respectively).

Adult caregivers cite low confidence in navigating system

A complementary survey fielded by The Harris Poll among adult caregivers (U.S. adults ages 18+ who have care recipients) found this group has lower confidence navigating the healthcare system than older adults.

Specifically, the survey found that nearly eight in ten (79%) of caregivers believe that they would be better able to help the person they care for manage their health if they better understood their care recipient’s benefits.

Caregivers surveyed identified several options that would help them better navigate the healthcare system on behalf of individuals, including: talking to the person’s doctor; reading reviews and other self-help tools; and consulting the health insurance provider to which the person they’re caring for belongs.

Despite identifying several options that would help them better navigate the healthcare system, 77% of caregivers surveyed consider the health insurance provider of the person they care for as a partner in their healthy aging.