Humanely affordable

Of the many brain-stumping issues in the health reform debate, the one that seems to provoke the most visceral reaction from all sides seems to be: how to make health care affordable.

The past decade, we’ve all been the victims of health premiums that increase at three times the pace of our salaries … and everything else. We’ve noticed that the health plan just doesn’t cover as much as it used to. And deductibles and co-pays are popping up where they weren’t before.

It’s gotten so bad that more than 3,000 consumers from all over the state have submitted cards and keys with their health care stories, to be delivered to the Governor’s offices this week.

But what are people actually spending? A helpful report released last month by the UC Berkeley Labor Center answers that question. Researchers crunched data from the national Medical Expenditure Panel Survey — shows what people are spending on health care.

The numbers, for some, are bleak.

A family of four, earning the median income in California — $74,801 — who is moderately healthy, and has regular health care expenses can expect to spend, at most, 5 percent of their income on health coverage AND out-of-pocket costs if they have to go out on their own and buy health coverage on the open market (meaning they don’t get it through work.) If you can get coverage from your job, however, they’ll end up spending just 2 percent of their income. Pretty good deal.

On the other hand, if someone gets in a car accident, or breaks an arm, or is diagnosed with cancer or diabetes, the numbers are much more overwhelming. Even with coverage on the job, such a family could find themselves spending more than $6,000 to buy the coverage AND use the coverage. Those who have to go out and buy their insurance on their own would spend nearly $12,500 (16.7 percent of their income).

As this Health Access report from earlier this year shows, the majority of Californians — 60% — have assets of less than $12,000 (excluding home equity). So that means they’d have to empty their savings, liquidate their car, their 401ks, furniture, to pay for one year’s medical bills. That doesn’t innoculate them from getting sick the following year, either, when there is nothing to sell off to pay the hospital bill.

So as we continue debating what to do with AB8, health reform in California and nationally, someone should take a look and listen to what consumers are actually spending and ask themselves, is this right?

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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