Florida seniors have the worst medical debt in the US, report says

Inflation is crushing the wallets of millions of Americans, but seniors on a fixed income are feeling the brunt of it as they pay medical bills.

"If you're out of work, then how do you pay your rent, your mortgage, buy food for the table? And unfortunately, what happens is it’s those things, such as medical bills, that might fall by the wayside," said JoAnn Bross, the director of clinical, social work and spiritual care services at Gulfside Healthcare Services in Tampa Bay. 

A new report from Alignment Healthcare found just how far those bills fall. It said "34% of those with medical debt in Florida" had bills "totaling at least three months of living expenses." Florida's seniors have the worst medical debt in the country, and the problem could be even greater.

"There are some seniors particularly that are really reluctant to share their struggles, at least financially," said Bross.

The report gives a snapshot into communities like Tampa Bay, where groups such as Community Aging and Retirement Services (CARES) take care senior needs in Pasco County. 

"We provide medical care at the clinic, our free clinic in downtown New Port Richey, those seniors are between the ages of 55 and 65, meaning that they don't have Medicaid, they don't have Medicare. So, they are falling through the cracks," said Jemith Rosa, the CARES president and CEO.

If seniors do have Medicaid, Medicare, or even private insurance, those costs can still add up when it’s time to pay the bills.

"The other major issue that we have with the seniors is that they are pouring those medical debts into their credit cards with high interest rate," said Rosa. "I think that what we should all do as a team, it is to advocate for better Medicaid and Medicare services for our seniors."

For now, social workers like Bross said they will help seniors deal with a costly healthcare system.

"I think we really have to do a better job with making affordable health care accessible to all," said Bross. "I think we've come, come, come a long way in that, but there's quite a long way to go."

CARES and Gulfside Healthcare Services representatives said it’s important for seniors to know there are resources available in their community to help guide them.

Back when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, it allowed states to expand Medicaid. The Kaiser Family Foundation shows Florida is one of 11 states, mostly in the south, that have not allowed that even as the federal government would pay 90% of the costs.