Healthcare Costs Near Top of Americans’ Economic Woes

May 5, 2008

This article is included in these additional categories:

Financial Services | Pharma & Healthcare

Paying for healthcare ranks among Americans’ top personal economic problems (some even marry for health insurance)?- up there with filling the gas tank and finding a well-paying job or getting a pay raise – according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

Conducted by the Foundation’s public opinion researchers, the April poll probes into the economic concerns facing Americans and the ways they have dealt with the cost of healthcare.

Nearly three in 10 Americans (28%) report that they or their families have had a serious problem paying for healthcare and health insurance as a result of recent changes in the economy, behind paying for gas (44%) and about tied with getting a good-paying job or raise in pay (29%).

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Smaller shares report serious problems paying their rent or mortgage (19%), dealing with credit card or other personal debt (18%), paying for food (18%) or losing money in the stock market (16%).

Reports of families facing serious economic problems extend up into middle-income families, with almost three in 10 (28%) of those earning between $30,000 and $75,000, reporting a serious problem paying for healthcare or health insurance as a result of recent changes in the economy.

“Many people view health and the economy as separate issues, but the cost of healthcare is a significant pocketbook issue for many families and paying for healthcare has become a key dimension of the public’s economic concerns,” Kaiser President and CEO Drew E. Altman said.

Among other findings of the study:

  • In a separate series of questions asking about the personal economic consequences of medical bills, nearly four in 10 (37%) report at least one of six financial troubles over the past five years as a result of medical bills:
    • Having difficulties paying other bills (20%)
    • Being contacted by a collections agency (20%)
    • Using up all or most of their savings (17%)
    • Being unable to pay for basic necessities such as food, heat or housing (12%)
    • Borrowing money (10%)
    • Declaring bankruptcy (3%)
  • Health benefits play a key role in people’s decisions to switch jobs or stay in their current job. Nearly a quarter (23%) say they or a member of their household have, within the past year, either taken a new job or stuck with their current job (instead of taking a new one) primarily because of better health benefits.
  • Health coverage is also a factor in some people’s decisions to get married. Among all adults, 7% say they or someone in their household decided in the past year to get married in order to have access to their spouse’s healthcare benefits, or so their spouse could have access to their benefits.
  • The high cost of healthcare also caused a significant number of Americans to delay or go without medical care, with more than four in 10 (42%) saying they or a family member in their household have experienced at least one of five specific consequences due to cost:
    • Put off or postponed getting needed care (29%)
    • Skipped a recommended medical test or treatment (24%)
    • Not filled a prescription (23%)
    • Cut pills in half or skipped doses of medicine (19%)
    • Had problems getting mental healthcare (8%)
  • People generally are more likely to report taking these actions now than in the past – for instance, 24% now report skipping a recommended medical test or treatment in the past year because of the cost, up from 17% in 2005.

Kaiser also released the results of its April “Kaiser Health Tracking Poll: Election 2008,” the seventh in a series tracking voters’ views about where healthcare fits as an issue in the 2008 presidential election, as well as their views on potential approaches to health reform.

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The latest survey finds voters are most likely to name the economy as one of the two most important issues for the candidates to discuss, followed by Iraq and healthcare. The three issues rank in the same order among Democrats, Republicans and independents.

About the data: The polls were designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation. A nationally representative random sample of 2,003 adults was interviewed by telephone between April 3 and 13, 2008.

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