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Boomers Roll the Dice, Skip Meds to Make Ends Meet

Falling investment returns, rising costs of necessities has pre-retirees cutting back on prescriptions and skipping doctors' appointments, study finds.

January 11, 2012
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You know times are tough when people approaching retirement are skipping visits to the doctor in order to save a few bucks.

But individuals over age 50 appear to be doing just that as they try to make ends meet amid a rise in the cost of basic necessities and drop-off in investment returns.

A newly released study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute determined that nearly a quarter of individuals above age 50 were trimming costs by making changes to their prescription medication, including switching to generic drugs, obtaining free samples or going as far as to stop taking their medication entirely. About one in five of those surveyed also said they either skipped or postponed doctor's appointments.

The analysis was based on a survey of 4,433 individuals.

Participants pointed to the foreboding economic picture, reduced income and the need to lighten their debt load as the factors driving the spending cuts. Declining stock values were also citied. Those surveyed also said that they were spending more money on basic expenses, such as food, gas and utilities.

Skipping the doctor's office may not be particularly calamitous for individuals who are in good health. EBRI's study, however, found that individuals who said their heath was "poor" are most likely to avoid health care services or reduce their meds to cut expenses. Of the participants who said they'd cut health care spending—and also claimed to be in ill health—about 30 percent adjusted their medications. More than one in three said they skipped medical appointments.

By comparison, only 15.3 percent of those in excellent health tinkered with their medication, while less than one in ten missed appointments with a doctor.

It was unclear as to whether the people who pulled back on health care spending were making similar cuts in other areas, noted EBRI researcher and author Sudipto Banerjee.

"It could be that they're cutting costs in other areas if they're not in good financial shape," he said. "But cutting back on health care shows that the need to cut costs is desperate."

Darla Mercado writes for InvestmentNews, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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