Losing Ground: How the Loss of Adequate Health Insurance Is Burdening Working Families

By Sara R. Collins, Ph.D., Jennifer L. Kriss, Michelle M. Doty, Ph.D., and Sheila D. Rustgi
The Commonwealth Fund
August 20, 2008

Using data from four years of the Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey, this report examines the status of health insurance for U.S. adults under age 65 and the implications for family finances and access to health care. Insurance coverage deteriorated over the past six years, with declines in coverage most severe for moderate-income families. As result, more families are experiencing medical bill problems or cost-related delays in getting needed care. In 2007, nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults, or an estimated 116 million people, struggled to pay medical bills, went without needed care because of cost, were uninsured for a time, or were underinsured (i.e., were insured but not adequately protected from high medical expenses).



Seeing Red: The Growing Burden of Medical Bills and Debt Faced by U.S. Families

By Michelle M. Doty, Ph.D., Sara R. Collins, Ph.D., Sheila D. Rustgi, and Jennifer L. Kriss
The Commonwealth Fund
August 20, 2008

Analysis of the 2007 Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey finds the proportion of working-age Americans who struggled to pay medical bills and accumulated medical debt climbed from 34 percent to 41 percent, or 72 million people, between 2005 and 2007. In addition, 7 million adults age 65 and older had these problems, bringing the total to 79 million adults with medical debt or bill problems. All income groups reported an increase. Families with low or moderate incomes were particularly hard hit, as were adults who had gaps in health coverage or those underinsured. Because of medical bills or accumulated medical debt, an estimated 28 million adults reported they used up all their savings, 21 million incurred large credit card debt, and another 21 million were unable to pay for basic necessities. Sixty-one percent of those with medical debt or bill problems were insured at the time care was provided.


How well is our health care financing system working? Two-thirds of adults under 65 have problems with their health insurance and paying for health care. Forty-one percent have medical bill problems or are paying off medical debt, even though sixty-one percent of these individuals were insured at the time care was provided.

So what is the response of the politicians to this health care financing crisis? Sen. John McCain says that we should allow insurers to sell us more affordable plans (even though that means that the stripped-down plans would not provide adequate financial protection in the face of medical need). Sen. Barack Obama says that we should authorize only plans with adequate benefits, whether public or private plans (even though that means that even more of us would be unable to afford to purchase the plans). Sen. Max Baucus, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee which must clear all health care financing legislation, says that comprehensive reform is not feasible and that we must proceed with smaller incremental steps, beginning with expanding the children’s health insurance program, and tweaking Medicare.

Wouldn’t you think that the politicians would be interested in reform that would allow us to continue to fund the most expensive health care system of all, without the necessity of exposing individuals to financial hardship merely because they need health care?

I was interviewed by a Canadian journalist this week. He said that the Canadians could not understand how we could spend so much money on our health care system and yet leave so many without adequate protection against financial losses for health care. They think that there is something very fundamentally wrong with our health care financing system that can be fixed. If only we could get our politicians to acknowledge that there is a solution that would actually work: a single payer national health program.