Many California Seniors Need Help Paying for Health Care, Other Expenses

About 340,000 California residents ages 65 and older have incomes below the federal poverty level, but many more likely need assistance in paying for medical care, food and other expenses,according to a brief released Monday by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, KPCC’s “KPCC News” reports.

Details of Brief

The federal poverty level in 2011 was about $10,890 annually for a single individual. However, the Elder Economic Security Standard Index, or “Elder Index” — which takes into account how much individuals need for health care, housing, food and transportation — states that California seniors renting their homes and living alone that year would need about $23,364 for basic living expenses.

Using the “Elder Index,” researchers found that 772,000 seniors in the state live above the federal poverty level, but likely still need financial assistance (Aguilar, “KPCC News,” KPCC, 8/31).

The highest rates of seniors with incomes above the poverty level but below $23,364 were among:

  • Individuals who rented their homes;
  • Individuals who were ages 75 and older;
  • Individuals who were raising their grandchildren;
  • Latinos; and
  • Women.


Because many public assistance programs rely on the poverty level for eligibility requirements, “potentially hundreds of thousands of economically insecure older Californians are denied aid,” according to the brief (UCLA brief, August 2015).

Imelda Padilla-Frausto, lead author of the brief and a graduate student researcher at the Center for Health Policy Research, argued that the poverty level is not an accurate indicator of poverty because it does not take into account cost of living in different areas. “It’s hard to really address poverty when you don’t have a more accurate tool to measure poverty,” she added (“KPCC News,” KPCC, 8/31).

The brief suggests that “[r]aising the income and asset eligibility requirement thresholds for social support programs, such as Supplemental Security Income, housing, health care and food assistance, would help California’s older hidden poor make ends meet” (UCLA brief, August 2015).

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