New York Times Examines Some Patients’ Difficulty Paying Medical Bills
The New York Times on Sunday examined the challenges many U.S. residents with health insurance face when paying for health care by profiling the family of a boy with an immune system disorder. According to the Times, health insurers in recent years have begun increasing out-of-pocket costs for members by raising deductibles, premiums and copayments. Premiums for an employee's share of coverage under PPOs increased 76% between 2000 and 2005, from $342 to $603, according to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Education Trust.
During the same period, employee deductibles rose nearly 85%, from $175 to $323. Industry officials say the higher out-of-pocket costs are necessary to help offset rising costs resulting from the elimination of limits imposed by managed care. Officials also say the cost-shifting encourages patients "to seek care judiciously," the Times reports. However, higher costs have led to more financial pressure on consumers, particularly those who need the most treatment, according to Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change.
Many U.S. families with higher levels of household debt and fewer savings are forced to file for bankruptcy protection when faced with high medical bills, the Times reports. According to a study by researchers at Harvard and Ohio universities, of 1,771 people surveyed who filed for bankruptcy in 2005, 28% reported that the cause was illness or injury and resulting medical bills. Most survey participants reported that they were middle class and educated and had health insurance. According to the Times, the results suggest that as many as 400,000 American families file for bankruptcy annually because of medical expenses. A survey by HSC estimates that in 2003, 20 million American families had difficulty paying medical bills, although two-thirds of those families had health insurance (Leland , New York Times, 10/23).
The Times also examined strategies that can help protect families from high medical bills, including selecting health insurance policies that better fit individuals' needs as well as saving money through flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts.
In addition, healthy people should consider long-term and disability insurance, according to Melissa Jacoby, associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina. Meanwhile, some states offer low-cost health coverage programs for people who lose their health insurance, which people can use to avoid filing for bankruptcy when faced with high medical bills, the Times reports (Leland , New York Times, 10/23).