Consumers with health insurance report they are having problems paying medical bills, and the problem is even worse for consumers who are uninsured, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The New York Times. Both groups say their medical bills impact their families and financial situations overall through spending less on basic household items and increasing credit card debt, according to the survey on the burden of medical debt released in January.
The Kaiser Family Foundation and The New York Times surveyed 2,575 adults ages 18-64 between Aug. 28 and Sept. 28, 2015. In that survey, 1,204 consumers reported problems paying medical bills while 1,371 did not. Among respondents with health insurance, 20 percent reported problems paying medical bills in the past year before they took the survey that often cause significant financial challenges and changes in employment and lifestyle, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“As expected, the situation is even worse among people who are uninsured: half (53 percent face problems with medical bills, bringing the overall total to 26 percent,” according to the news release. “Among those facing problems with medical bills, almost identical shares of the insured (44 percent) and insured (45 percent) say the bills had a major impact on their families.”
Sixty-six percent of respondents reporting problems paying medical bills said they were the result of a one-time or short-term healthcare expense such as a hospital stay or an accident, according to the survey. Thirty-three percent said the bills amount from medical treatments that have built up over time. According to the survey, insurance may initially guard people from having problems with healthcare bills but once those problems occur the impact is similar regardless of people’s insurance status.
“While insurance provides financial protection, that protection can be incomplete for a number of reasons, including rising deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing, out-of-network charges, the growing complexity of insurance that can leave consumers with unexpected bills, and the fact that many people have only modest financial assets to cover medical expenses,” according to the foundation.
“In fact, people who have problems paying medical bills despite having health insurance are more likely than the uninsured with medical bill problems to say they’ve put off vacations or major household purchases (77 percent versus 64 percent), respectively,” according to the survey. More people without insurance (41 percent) said they have problems getting the medical care they need as a result of medical bill problems compared to 26 percent of insured consumers, the results show.
High deductibles and co-payments under some employer and Affordable Care Act health insurance plans have contributed to higher out-of-pocket costs at times for consumers, according to The New York Times article on the survey. “We’re at a point where there’s been slow growth in healthcare costs and huge improvements in the numbers of people who have health insurance,” Sara Collins, a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, a health research group said in the article. “But there is this underlying trend towards higher cost sharing that could put increasing numbers of people at risk for being underinsured.”