We the Patients

Senior NY’ers: Protect Yourself from Medical Debt

Guest Post by N’Diera Viechweg

As New Yorkers age, their medical bills often grow larger – right as their ability to make critical decisions about their health and finances declines. 

In a recent study, Dr. Chris Heye investigates the relationship between age, mental illness and financial awareness. He finds that older folks carry a greater risk of financial exploitation, including from large institutions like hospitals and debt collectors. That risk becomes even greater when seniors are diagnosed with conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and/or anxiety. 

In 2021, New York State reportedly had the “fourth largest population of older adults,” with 4.6 million residents 60 or older. 1/9 adult New Yorkers aged 45 and older described suffering from memory loss and confusion, likely affecting their ability to successfully manage medical debt and their overall finances. 

As more and more Americans are burdened with medical debt, here are a few ways for aging New Yorkers to protect themselves:

  1. Choose the Right Plan

Medicare plans are available for all New Yorkers aged 65 and older and there are additional New York State programs available that may act as safeguards against medical debt. Firstly, the Health Insurance Information Counseling and Assistance Program provides information via phone or in person on health insurance benefits, medicare and medicaid, patient rights and more; helping to simplify and explain health insurance for those in need. NYS also offers a Medicare Savings Program (MSP) which offers additional aid for low income adults, and has recently expanded its eligibility requirements. MSP can help pay for the part B Medicare premium as well as part D prescription plan costs. One participant described MSP to be a “godsend”, allowing him extra money for other essentials such as clothing.

  1. Take Advantage of Financial Assistance Programs

NYS also offers a bill payer program for those aged 60 and older earning an income of $60,000 or less. This program provides assistance with budgeting, reviewing and paying bills monthly, and monitoring accounts for fraud or inconsistencies. These available programs have the ability to protect vulnerable, low income New Yorkers from becoming victims of medical debt. 

  1. Lean on Others

In order to prevent overall financial exploitation, it is important for friends, family or a financial advisor to have active and frequent conversations about finances as this has shown to better “equip” elders against financial abuse. (NYS Preventing Elder Financial Exploitation). Additionally, reviewing medical bills prior to payment and ensuring that insurance benefits are correctly applied is paramount in preventing overpayment and unforeseen debts.  


  1. NYS Elderly Population demographics, related medical debt facts

In 2021 it was reported that New York State has the “fourth largest population of older adults” with a whopping 4.6 million adults being aged 60 or older. Additionally, this population makes up 65% of the household income generated in all of New York State. In comparison 6.2 million adult New Yorkers are stated to have chronic conditions (1), and in 2017 1/9 adult New Yorkers aged 45 and over were said to suffer from memory loss or confusion (2). 

  1. Recommendations/Prevention Methods

1 thought on “<strong>Senior NY’ers: Protect Yourself from Medical Debt</strong>”

  1. It’s great that you went into detail about how all New Yorkers 65 and older can enroll in Medicare plans, and that there are other New York State programs available that might serve as safeguards against medical debt. This will be useful for my aunt, who needs surgery next month and wants to make sure she doesn’t accrue any medical debt in terms of her billing. Given this, I’ll make sure to let her know about this article so she can follow your advice by that time. Thanks!

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