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Unpaid Health Care Strains Families

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, September 25, 2008 12:03 PM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family, In The Workplace
Tags: Health Care Costs, Health Care Insurance, Emergency Room Care, Chronic Conditions

Not only are people paying more for less but many cant pay medical bills



IMAGE SOURCE: iStockphoto/ emergency sign/ author: © BradenGunem


With the financial meltdown of our economy filling the headlines - many Americans are already feeling it close to home. 

Two studies released Wednesday say the financial burden of unpaid medical bills is taxing working families.

The studies, by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Center for Studying Health System Change do not address the current financial melt-down as they were completed before the recent $700 billion bailout of the financial sector.

Half of Americans get their health insurance through an employer and today they are paying more for their employer-backed health insurance and getting less.

Premiums rose about five percent over 2007 levels, the lowest jump in 10 years. But since 1999, wages have increased 34 percent while insurance costs have doubled.

Even those with health insurance, about 43 million surveyed, 57 million Americans are reportedly struggling to pay medical bills.

The high cost of gasoline, food, almost everything that strains a household budget is breaking under the higher cost for health care.

"We may be seeing the tip of an iceberg of a trend toward less comprehensive, skimpier health insurance for working people with less coverage and higher out-of-pocket costs," said Drew Altman, president and chief executive officer of the foundation based in Menlo Park said to the San Francisco Chronicle. "Premiums have risen 3 1/2 times faster than wages. That's why people are feeling the pain, and that's why they say paying for health coverage is one of their top concerns today."

Kaiser finds:

  • Employees are paying more for family coverage- now at $12,680 a year
  • Employees pay about $3,354, double that in 1999
  • Employers, particularly smaller with fewer than 200 employees are offering higher-deductible plans with or without pretax savings accounts
  • Employers are increasingly offering plans without a savings account which increases out-of-pocket spending
  • Over the past two years, the percentage of workers with annual deductibles of at least $1,000 has increased from 16 to 35 percent


The Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., surveyed households nationwide finding nearly one in five had problem paying medical bills last year, some borrowing money to pay those expenses.

Nearly one in five considered declaring personal bankruptcy as a result.

“It’s hitting both the insured and the uninsured, and it’s hitting middle-class families,” said Karen Davis, the president of the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit research organization that financed the study told the New York Times.

Policy analysts looking at the studies say they underscore the need for affordable health care. 

As the nation re-thinks the de-regulation climate that has characterized government for the past nearly three decades, the health care system and the role of government will likely be the focus of a renewed debate.

“We can now imagine a government takeover that we could not imagine before,” according to Len Nichols of the New American Foundation, a nonpartisan policy group that advocates universal medical coverage. 

The fear is that many will opt out of any medical care or prescriptions altogether, allowing chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, to worsen.  

Expect premiums to rise higher as there has been no attempt to address the rising medical costs. #

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