Experts were surprised this week when the latest government survey showed that consumers actually paid a slightly smaller share of the nation’s total health bill in 2011, even though more people now pay higher deductibles.
Total U.S. spending on health care grew 3.9% in 2011 (including all medical goods and services, public health, cost of health insurance, investments, and government costs). That equals 17.9% of Gross Domestic Product (the same as 2009 and 2010) or about $8,680 per person in the nation.
Consumers paid just over one-quarter (28%) of total costs. Meanwhile, federal government health spending has risen more than three times as fast as consumer health spending since 2007, largely due to increased Medicare and Medicaid services for seniors and the disabled.
But many households hit hard by high deductibles
Even though the federal government is paying more of the nation’s total bill, individuals and families are paying a higher percentage of their personal income on health care. Household medical expenses are rising faster than the families’ income, according to government statistician Micah Hartman.
In 2012, one worker in three had medical insurance with a deductible of $1000 or more, meaning they must pay $1000 “out of pocket” before most expenses are covered. (In 2006, only one in 10 workers had a high-deductible plan.)
At the moment, the cost of higher deductibles is being partly offset by lower average prescription costs, as low-cost generics become more available for common medicines.
But more and more employers—as well as insurers under the new “health exchange” insurance marketplaces coordinated by the Affordable Care Act—will offer only high-deductible plans with pretax health savings accounts in the near future, according to employer and insurer surveys.
Fight Colorectal Cancer Answer Line and Upcoming Webinar Both Offer Advice
Public health officials worry that high deductibles may keep patients from getting needed screening or early treatment.
“One of the most common calls to our Answer Line right now is from people due for a colonoscopy, or unable to pay treatment copays, because they can’t afford their high deductible,” says Tavia Gilchrist, one of the friendly voices of Fight Colorectal Cancer’s Answer Line.
People may not have enough cash to pay a plan’s high deductible; or they’ve been laid off and lost all insurance; or they’re in a ‘grandfathered’ plan that isn’t yet required to offer free screenings. Gilchrist helps people define exactly what issue they’re facing, whether it’s insurance or Medicare rules, confusion about what a doctor is ordering, or a lack of local screening programs. “Every state – even areas within a state – is different,” she notes. Her job is to get callers started in the right direction to find answers to their specific question.
Webinar features expert on handling cancer finances
Speaking of questions, you can listen to plenty of answers in the live webinar “Addressing the Financial Burden of Cancer” on Wednesday, Jan. 16 from 8 to 9:30 pm EST. It features Elaine Martinez, a case manager with the Colorectal CareLine at the Patient Advocate Foundation.
Elaine serves as a liaison between colorectal cancer patients and their insurers, employers and/or creditors to resolve insurance, job, and/or debt problems. She helps investigate reimbursement levels for prescribed treatments, researches available clinical trials, and helps people enroll in resource programs for both uninsured and underinsured patients.
If you can’t listen in on Wednesday, the webinar will be archived for later listening, too.
Either way, you can’t afford to miss it.
- “Who Knew? Patients’ Share of Health Spending Is Shrinking,” Jan. 14 Kaiser Health News;
- “Employer Health Benefits: 2012 Summary of Findings,” Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Education Trust;
- 2011 National Health Expenditures report, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services;
- Fight Colorectal Answer Line: 1-877-427-2111