CONSUMERS UNION: Report Reveals ‘Health Care Divide’
Despite a prosperous economy, the United States still is faced with a "health care divide," where the "financial burden" of health care falls more on the sick, middle class and poor than the healthy and wealthy, according to a new report from Consumers Union. The report, titled "The Health Care Divide: Unfair Financial Burdens," notes that the sickest 10% of the U.S. population -- 28 million people -- accounts for 68% of the money spent on health care each year. They also spend seven times what the average person spends on health care (Consumers Union release, 8/10). Overall, health care spending has increased since 1996, jumping from 7.9% of household income to 8.6% of household income this year (MacDonald, Hartford Courant, 8/11). Further illustrating the "divide," the report points out that 13 million Americans with family incomes of at least $100,000 spend 3% of their income on health care, while 10 million individuals with family incomes of $45,000 spend 6% of their income, and 13 million people with incomes less than $10,000 spend 17% of their income. In addition, one in six households headed by an individual under age 65 spends 10% or more of household income on out-of-pocket health care expenses, and one in two households headed by a person over age 65 spends more than 10% of household income on health care expenses (Consumers Union release, 8/10). Even as the uninsured population continues to expand, the report asserts that "there is no sign that the private marketplace alone is capable of responding adequately to the challenge consumers face in covering health care costs" (Shearer, "The Health Care Divide: Unfair Financial Burdens," 8/10).
Calling for Universal Coverage
The Hartford Courant reports that Consumers Union will use the report to "build a case for universal health insurance." Report author Gail Shearer said, "Congress should establish, as a matter of law, that all people in this country have a right to comprehensive, affordable, quality health care coverage." In the September issue of Consumer Reports, the organization again advocates universal health care, stating that insurance "is not a commodity to be bought by those lucky enough to have money" (Hartford Courant, 8/11). In terms of reform, the report recommends implementing a "universal" prescription drug benefit under Medicare, expanding Medicare to cover those ages 55-64 and extending Medicaid and CHIP to parents of enrolled children. The report also cautions against "proposals that perpetuate the failings of the marketplace, such as medical savings accounts, healthmarts and association health plans" (Consumers Union release, 8/10). The complete report is available at http://www.consumer.org/health/divide/divide.htm.