Monday, September 29, 2008

Health Care Costs Increase Strain, Studies Find

“Two studies released Wednesday provide further evidence of the toll that health care is increasingly placing on working families, even for those with health insurance. And as employees are paying more medical expenses out of their own pockets, they are having a harder time coming up with the money. The studies, by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Center for Studying Health System Change, were completed earlier this year before the financial markets reached their current state of crisis. But policy analysts say the findings underscore the mounting additional strain that medical care is placing on working Americans. ’The problems people are having paying for health care and health insurance are a central dimension of the economic and pocketbook concerns right now,’ said Drew E. Altman, the president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health research group that conducts an annual survey of employer medical benefits. Although inflation in insurance premiums has moderated in recent years, the Kaiser survey found that employees were continuing to spend more in medical costs, including their share of yearly insurance premiums. Employees are paying an average of $3,354 in premiums for family coverage, more than double the amount they paid in 1999. The total cost for family coverage now averages $12,680 a year, up 5 percent from 2007. And as people are paying more, they are finding the higher expense less affordable. In the study by the nonpartisan Center for Studying Health System Change, based on its national survey of households, nearly one of every five families had problems paying medical bills last year. More than half of these families said they borrowed money to pay these expenses, and nearly 20 percent of those having difficulty said they contemplated declaring personal bankruptcy as a result of their medical bills. The study estimates that 57 million Americans live in families struggling with medical bills, and 43 million of those have insurance coverage. ‘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. Because they are already in debt over their medical care, some families start forgoing treatments, even for serious or chronic conditions, Ms. Davis said. By deciding not to fill a prescription for high blood pressure medication or failing to go to the doctor for diabetes, they are at risk of incurring more serious and costly problems that can land them in the emergency room. ‘It’s a serious health problem and it’s a serious economic problem,’ she said.”

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