By Jill Zorn
The percentage of underinsured people in the United States is growing. It was 23 percent in 2014, compared to 12 percent in 2003. Recent reports show that this problem is getting worse, too. And it is hitting those with chronic health problems the most, causing them to forgo necessary care.
Deductibles are increasing at an alarming rate in employer plans, more than six times faster than wages since 2010. The result is a greater burden on employees:
…As wages have stagnated, the steady increase in deductibles is squeezing an already beleaguered middle class. While employers have generally felt some relief from the burden of ever-rising health care costs in recent years, workers are feeling increasingly vulnerable to high medical bills. Some are making difficult choices about what care they can afford.
Similar trends can be seen in the plans offered under the Affordable Care Act. In fact, the marketplace plans are even worse than employer-based insurance. “Chronically ill people enrolled in individual health plans sold on the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges pay on average twice as much out-of-pocket for prescription drugs each year than people covered through their workplace.”
One of the major concerns is the impact of cost on people who are sick and require expensive treatments or frequent visits to the doctor. If they skip getting necessary care, the cost could end up being much higher. “The risk of higher cost sharing for people with a chronic disease… is that they won’t fill or renew prescriptions, leaving them sicker and in need of costly hospital care.”
Consumers Union did a survey on people’s experiences with health care costs in 2013. At that time, they found:
One-third (35%) of all consumers indicated they had postponed doctor visits, tests, filling prescriptions, or surgery due to cost in 2013. Consumers who had already spent the most were more inclined to have postponed medical treatment due to cost. This finding suggests that those with the greatest medical needs had reached a financial ceiling that denied them comprehensive treatment.
The survey found that nearly half (46%) of the underinsured denied themselves medical treatment for reasons of cost.
A more recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in August of this year finds that it is the sickest among us who struggle the most with health care affordability.
Those who report that they are in fair or poor health and those who say they are currently taking 4 or more prescription drugs are more likely than their counterparts to say affording their medicine is difficult (43 percent vs. 17 percent and 38 percent vs. 16 percent, respectively). These groups are also more likely than others to say that they have not filled a prescription or cut pills in half or skipped doses in the past 12 months due to cost
There is something wrong with this picture! Isn’t insurance supposed to protect us if we have the misfortune to get sick?
With a growing number of Americans concerned about health care costs, it’s no wonder that this LA Times article points out that health care costs are now on the radar screen of some presidential candidates, at least those on the democratic side of the aisle.
So far, health care has been barely discussed during the Republican presidential debates. Watch for it to be brought up during next Tuesday’s Democratic debate, and for that discussion to center around how high prices and high out-of-pocket costs are keeping too many people from getting the care they need.
Read our blog about the debate next Wednesday to see if I was right.