Published June 10, 2021
According to U.S. census data, 54% of women and nearly 20% of men age 75 and up are currently widowed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the issue even more. More than 467,000 U.S. adults age 65 and over have died from the virus (80% of all COVID-19 fatalities), creating a sudden surge in widowed seniors. The pandemic has also negatively impacted the mental health of adults of all ages, even before the added stress brought on by a spouse’s death.
Our survey found millions of those very same seniors may be missing out on grief counseling and other mental health care services that are covered by Medicare because of inaccurate cost concerns or simply because they are unaware of the benefits available to them.
Medicare coverage that can be beneficial to a grieving widow or widower includes:
Medicare-covered services may be provided by physicians and physician assistants, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurse specialists or practitioners and nurse-midwives.
Medicare Part A typically covers inpatient care, while Part B provides coverage of outpatient treatment.
In a survey of 400 widowed Americans age 65 and over, just 15% reported meeting with a mental health specialist while grieving the loss of their spouse. And just 10% began taking antidepressants or other medications, despite these drugs being covered under Medicare Part D plans and Medicare Advantage plans with prescription drug coverage. In fact, all Medicare drug plans are required by law to cover antidepressants and antipsychotics.
More than one out of three seniors reported keeping their feelings private and not sharing with others, while 8% said they ignore their grief entirely.
Click on image to enlarge in a new tab
One reason so few grieving seniors seek professional help is an overall lack of awareness of their Medicare benefits. A vast majority of beneficiaries don’t know Medicare covers a range of mental health services.
82% of those surveyed were unaware that Medicare will cover mental health services at a community health center. In all, there were 11 different mental health services that at least 60% of beneficiaries didn’t know they were entitled to through their Medicare insurance.
Click on image to enlarge in a new tab
Three out of four beneficiaries were unaware that telehealth appointments for mental health counseling and psychotherapy were covered by Medicare. The use of telehealth has greatly increased during the pandemic — by more than 3,000% from October 2019 to October 2020 — and Medicare expanded its coverage of telehealth services at the onset of COVID-19.
More than seven out of 10 beneficiaries were unaware that Medicare covers annual depression screenings, counseling sessions with social workers or psychologists and family counseling. And six out of 10 didn’t even know they could receive covered mental health services at a doctor’s office.
While a large majority of widowed beneficiaries were not aware of Medicare’s coverage of various mental health services, one in five reported not seeking out therapy or grief counseling because of that lack of awareness.
One in five widowed seniors also reported not seeking mental health care services due to concerns over the cost, but annual Medicare depression screenings come with no required cost when certain conditions are met. And additional outpatient mental health services require just a 20% coinsurance payment after the annual $203 deductible is met.
Widowed Medicare beneficiaries remain largely unaware of the covered mental health services that are available to them during a time of grief. In fact, three out of four beneficiaries were unaware that telehealth appointments for mental health counseling and psychotherapy were covered by Medicare, and a similar number are unaware that visits with a therapist are covered.
At least one out of every five widowed Medicare beneficiaries have avoided seeking out such services because of this lack of awareness or out of fear of the cost. This means that potentially millions of widowed seniors unnecessarily go without mental health services when they might need it most.
We surveyed 400 widowed people aged 65 and older, using an audience pool gathered using PollFish. The survey was conducted May 17 – June 1. To qualify, respondents also needed to currently enrolled in Medicare.
Margin of error: +/- 4% (95% confidence interval)
Of course we would love for you to share our work with others. We just ask that if you do, please grant us the proper citation with a link to this study so that we may be given credit for our efforts.
Our research reports analyze a number of issues important to seniors, from health perceptions, medical communication, health habits and more.