Struggling Seniors: Social Security Boost Puts Oxygen Machines at Risk

Struggling Seniors: Social Security Boost Puts Oxygen Machines at Risk

In a surprising turn of events, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) decision to increase benefits by 8.7 percent in January 2023 has created unexpected challenges for seniors like Carol Nine, an Indiana resident facing difficult choices due to the resulting changes in her Medicaid eligibility.

The initial intent of the Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) was to help seniors cope with the rising inflation, providing additional financial support. However, for Carol Nine, the $147 increase in her monthly benefits led to unforeseen consequences.

The extra $100 rendered her ineligible for Medicaid, throwing her into a financial predicament. “I thought the COLA was supposed to cover the impact of high inflation, not cause many of us to have to pay for or give up medical care that we so desperately need,” Nine expressed, highlighting the unintended repercussions of the COLA on seniors’ healthcare.

The loss of Medicaid has significant implications for Nine’s health and finances. The surcharge in copays has already resulted in over $600 in medical expenses this year alone.

Unfortunately, the financial strain has forced her to make difficult decisions, including canceling essential surgeries, and specialist appointments, and foregoing crucial medications. “Now we cannot afford a lot of the necessities because of this,” laments Nine, hinting at the broader issue affecting seniors who find themselves in a similar situation.

Nine’s situation is not unique, as many seniors are grappling with the unintended consequences of the COLA increase. Beyond Medicaid, the boost in Social Security benefits can push seniors into higher tax brackets, leading to unexpected tax liabilities on their benefits.

Moreover, the higher total income can disqualify seniors from other support services, such as food stamps, exacerbating their financial challenges.

The impact on seniors goes beyond immediate financial strain. With rising inflation and soaring grocery prices, seniors are forced to cut budgets, particularly in areas like food expenses.

The fear looms large for individuals like Carol Nine, who anticipates making further cuts in the future, potentially compromising crucial medical equipment like her oxygen-generating machine. “I wonder how many other people on Social Security this has happened to,” reflects Nine, highlighting the broader concern of seniors facing difficult choices due to unforeseen consequences of benefit increases.

Financial advisors and experts point out the flaws in using the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) as the basis for COLA. Roksolana Ponomarenko, a PRM financial advisor, suggests that this index doesn’t accurately reflect the spending patterns of retirees, particularly in areas like healthcare and housing where costs tend to rise more rapidly than the overall inflation rate.

“It’s a classic case of ‘too little, too late,’ as the COLA lags behind real-time increases in living expenses, leaving seniors to bridge the gap with their dwindling savings,” warns Ponomarenko.

As seniors anxiously await future COLA adjustments, the Senior Citizens League’s prediction for a significant drop in the 2025 COLA adds another layer of concern. The anticipated 1.75 percent increase is a stark contrast to the 3.2 and 8.7 percent boosts of the previous two years, raising worries about the adequacy of benefits in covering living expenses amid inflation.

“My hunch is that senior poverty will continue to rise,” cautions Brandon Selfors, CEO of Bridge, a life settlement and Medicare insurance company, emphasizing the pressing need for a comprehensive review of the COLA calculation method.

The call for using the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E) as a more accurate measure gains momentum. While acknowledging potential challenges related to geographic variations in the cost of living, experts argue that this index aligns better with the spending patterns of retirees, especially in critical areas like healthcare and housing.

“It never really keeps up when seniors need it most, which is right now,” remarks Selfors, highlighting the urgency of adopting a more reflective measure for COLA.

As seniors like Carol Nine grapple with the unintended consequences of Social Security benefit increases, there’s a growing call for a reevaluation of the COLA calculation method. The current system, based on CPI-W, falls short of addressing the unique spending patterns and needs of retirees.

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With future COLA increases uncertain and the potential for rising senior poverty, a comprehensive review becomes imperative to ensure that the very system designed to support seniors doesn’t inadvertently push them into financial hardship and compromise their access to essential healthcare services.

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