July 27, 1999


Today, at the White House, President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will join the Older Women's League (OWL) in releasing a report entitled "Medicare: Why Women Care," which includes a new analysis documenting why strengthening and modernizing Medicare is particularly important to women of all ages. The President and the First Lady will also underscore the importance of taking advantage of the historic opportunity to dedicate a significant portion of the surplus to secure the life of the Medicare trust fund for a quarter century. In releasing this report, OWL states its strong support for the President's vision of dedicating the surplus to strengthen Medicare, adding a prescription drug benefit, and improving preventive services.

The Vice President will later join the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill and release a new analysis on the greater challenges that beneficiaries in rural America face in accessing prescription drug coverage. He will point out that, although representing less than one-fourth of the Medicare population, beneficiaries living in rural areas account for greater than one in three of all beneficiaries lacking prescription drug coverage. Today, the Clinton-Gore Administration:

UNVEILS A NEW REPORT BY THE OLDER WOMEN'S LEAGUE. Nearly 60 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are women and this proportion rises with age -- more than 4 in 5 people over age 100 are women. Moreover, older women tend to have more chronic illness and lower incomes, making Medicare even more important as a health and financial safety net. Since it was created in 1965, Medicare has contributed to lengthening older women's lives by 20 percent and reducing their poverty rate dramatically. Yet the 21st century brings with it challenges that will affect all beneficiaries.

Key findings of the report include:

  • In the next 30 years, the number of Medicare beneficiaries will double -- most of them will be women. In 2035 alone, there will be nearly 40 million elderly women and fewer than 34 million older men. This large enrollment increase is a major factor in the projected exhaustion date of 2015 for the Medicare trust fund, and in the need for more revenue to avoid devastating cuts to the program.
  • Total prescription drug spending for women on Medicare averages $1,200 -- nearly 20 percent more than for men. Moreover, like all beneficiaries, about three-fourths of women have coverage that is inadequate, unstable, and declining. Of those women without drug coverage, fully 50 percent have income above 150 percent of poverty (about $12,750 for a single person, $17,000 for a couple), despite older women's lower average income.
  • Medicare's preventive benefits are underused by older women. Financial and information barriers prevent older women from using critical preventive services. For example, in recent years, just 1 in 7 women have taken advantage of Medicare-covered mammograms.

Other key findings include:


  • Most elderly Americans covered by Medicare are women. Of the 34 million elderly Americans covered by Medicare, 20 million are women, who comprise nearly 3 out of 5 older Americans. The proportion of the elderly who are women rises with age; about 71 percent of people age 85 or older are women. Eighty-three percent of centenarians are women; in fact, the number of women age 100 or older will double in the next 10 years.
  • New revenue is necessary to ensure that the Medicare trust fund is solvent when women in the baby boom generation retire. Since most women turning 65 today are expected to live through 2018, the projected insolvency of the Medicare Trust Fund will occur within their lifetimes.
  • Women have greater health care needs and lower income. Older women are more likely to need Medicare's health care services. About 73 percent have two or more chronic illnesses compared to 65 percent of men. Women's incomes are lower than men's incomes, and they must stretch fewer financial resources over longer lives. Seven out of 10 Medicare beneficiaries living below poverty are women. The increased likelihood that women will live alone in their later years places them at increased risk of poverty.

WOMEN FACE GREATER COST BURDENS -- AND BARRIERS TO HEALTH CARE -- BECAUSE OF MEDICARE BENEFIT LIMITATIONS. As important as Medicare coverage is to women, its benefits are outdated.

  • Higher out-of-pocket health spending. The combination of greater health problems and lower income causes women on Medicare to spend 22 percent of their income on health care compared to 17 percent for men. Lower-income women spend an even greater share of their limited incomes on health care -- 53 percent for the poorest.
  • Total prescription drug spending averages $1,200 for women on Medicare -- nearly 20 percent more than that of men. Older women tend to have more chronic illnesses that require medication to manage.
  • For most women, existing coverage is unstable, unaffordable, and declining. Medigap routinely increases premiums with age -- at age 85, the premium for a Medigap plan with drug coverage up to $1,250 costs from $300 to $400 per month -- $3,600 to $4,800 per year. This discriminates against women, who comprise nearly three-fourths of people in this age group. It also charges more at a time where income has declined.
  • About 7.3 million women on Medicare have no coverage to help pay for their prescription drug costs. Despite their lower average income, fully half of these women without drug coverage have income above 150 percent of poverty, underscoring the importance of drug coverage for people of all age groups.
  • Out-of-pocket payments for preventive services also constitute a barrier to health. In recent years, just one in seven women without supplemental insurance used Medicare-covered mammograms. One study found that in 1993, only 37 percent of Medicare beneficiaries without supplemental insurance had Pap smears, compared with 59 percent of women who had supplemental insurance.

EMPHASIZES GREATER PROBLEMS FACING RURAL BENEFICIARIES IN ACCESSING PRESCRIPTION DRUG COVERAGE. The Vice President also will release new facts on the challenges facing rural beneficiaries. Although one in four of all Medicare beneficiaries live in rural areas, more than one in three (34 percent) of those lacking drug coverage live in rural America. In fact, nearly half of all rural beneficiaries lack drug coverage compared to 34 percent of all beneficiaries. This reflects the reduced access to Medicare, managed care and retiree health coverage for these beneficiaries. The Vice President also will release information documenting that lack of access to prescription drug coverage occurs throughout the income spectrum -- 45 percent of rural beneficiaries with income above $50,000 lack prescription drug coverage compared to 25 percent of all beneficiaries.

HIGHLIGHTS THE IMPORTANCE OF INVESTING IN THE FUTURE OF THE MEDICARE PROGRAM. Today, the President, Vice President and First Lady will underscore the fact that there will not be a debate about how to strengthen Medicare or how to provide a prescription drug benefit if all of the surplus is invested in a large tax cut. They stated their strong belief that the Congress and the American public face an important decision: to invest in a stronger Medicare program for our mothers and grandmothers or give away the entire surplus on a risky and irresponsible tax scheme.

Click on any chart below to view it full size.
Bar Graph: Most Medicare Beneficiaries Are Women Bar Graph: Total Prescription Drug Spending for Women on Medicare Is $1,200: Nearly 20% More Than Men Pie Graph: Half Of Women On Medicare Without Drug Coverage Are Middle Income
Bar Graph: More Rural Medicare Beneficiaries Lack Prescription Drug Coverage Pie Graph: One In Three Beneficiaries Without Prescription Drug Coverage Lives In Rural America Bar Graph: Rural Beneficiaries Are Less Likely To Have Prescription Drug Coverage Across All Income Groups

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