Paying more, getting less

One-fifth of Americans are paying 10% of their disposable income — not total, disposable — toward health care annually, according to a new JAMA study.

The study details how — no matter how you get your insurance — you’re paying more and getting less.

The study covers the period between 1996 and 2003 — just as employers were beginning to shift more premiums one to workers, and insurance plans were increasing deductibles and annual out-of-pocket costs, so it doesn’t even capture the more recent trend.

The JAMA study fills an important gap. First, it tracks the percentage of family income devoted to medical care and insurance. Secondly, it documents the increase of this burden over time, and breaks it down by:

  • how people get covered (through work, on their own)
  • how the increase in costs affects people with certain health conditions (diabetes, heart disease).

Also important — the study details that people who buy their insurance as individuals (if you’re self-employed, or unemployed and purchasing coverage on your own) — pay the most. While to many, this information may be self evident, the study provides powerful evidence against individual policies at a crucial time when lawmakers are increasingly considering these types of policies to cover the uninsured.

Some factoids. You’re more likely to spend at least 10% of your disposable income on health care if you:

  • Are an adult between ages 55 and 64 (30.6%)
  • Are a woman (20.6%)
  • Live further from an urban area (24%)
  • Have diabetes (39.1%)

And before anyone thinks that high health costs only afflict the poor, 22.7% of middle-income families (between $60,000 and $80,000 for a family of four) spent 10% of their income on health care — a 7% jump. (sorry for all the numbers.)

So, you’d think that with all this money that some people are throwing at health care, patients are getting stellar access. Wrong. JAMA says,

“It is somewhat surprising that persons who experienced high total burdens were also more likely to report problems accessing medical treatment.”

Now that’s really adding insult to injury.

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