Many Insured US Residents Struggle Paying For Medical Expenses

Armen Hareyan's picture
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In additionto increasing the number of uninsured, the "economic slowdown" alsois "threatening millions of people who have insurance" but areunderinsured or are struggling to afford their premiums, copayments and otherout-of-pocket expenses, the New YorkTimesreports. Since 2001, an employee's average annual premium cost for familyhealth coverage has nearly doubled from $1,800 to $3,300, yet at the same time,"incomes have come nowhere close to keeping up," according to the Times.The share of income that the average U.S. household spends on health care hasrisen by about 12%, and health care expenses now account for nearly one-fifthof the average household's total spending, according to the consulting andaccounting firm Deloitte.

As a result, many of the 158 million U.S. residents withemployer-sponsored coverage "are struggling to meet medical expenses thatare much higher than they used to be." Some people are forced to choosebetween a routine visit to a physician and basic expenses, according to theTimes. In addition, many people's coverage "may not adequatelyprotect them from the financial shock" of an emergency department visit ora major surgery, the Times reports.

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According to Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, companies and lawmakers have yetto address what effect the economic slowdown will have on workers' medicalcare. Ted Nussbaum, a benefits consultant for Watson Wyatt Worldwide, and other experts say it isunlikely that significant numbers of employers will entirely drop workers' healthcoverage, though a weak economy could prompt many of them to shift toconsumer-driven plans, which generally require workers to contribute a greatershare of their medical costs.

Darling said, "It's a bad-news situation when an individual or householdhas to pay out of pocket three, four or five times as much for their healthplan as they would have at the time of the last recession," adding,"Americans have been giving their pay raise to the health caresystem" (Abelson/Freudenheim, New York Times, 5/4).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health PolicyReport is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.

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