Beyond Coverage: The High Burden of Health Care Costs on Insured Adults in Massachusetts

By Sharon K. Long
BCBS of Mass Foundation, RWJ Foundation, Urban Institute, March 2014

These findings highlight the vulnerability that Massachusetts families experience when faced with high health care costs. Overall, 42.5 percent of all nonelderly adults in the state reported that health care costs had resulted in financial problems or health care access problems for their families in the past year, with the burden greater for low-income adults (46.5 percent for those with income at or below 138 percent FPL) and middle-income adults (53.9 percent for those with income between 139 and 399 percent FPL). Nearly three-quarters (70.6 percent) of those who were uninsured for all or part of the year reported problems with health care costs. However, neither higher income nor health insurance coverage protected Bay State families: 31.7 percent of higher-income adults and 38.7 percent of adults with insurance coverage for the full year also reported that health care costs had resulted in problems for their families.

Health care costs are creating difficult choices for families in Massachusetts. Insured adults frequently reported going without needed care because of costs, cutting back on non-health-related spending to pay for health care, and reducing their family’s financial security to pay for health care, both by reducing savings and by taking on debt, including credit card debt. As a result, medical debt had a significant impact on many families, particularly middle-income families, with contacts from collection agencies quite common.

http://bluecrossmafoundation.org/sites/default/files/download/publicatio…

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Health Insurance Coverage Is Just The First Step: Findings From Massachusetts

By Sharon Long, Kate Willrich Nordahl, Kaitlyn Kenney Walsh, Kathy Hempstead, and Ariel Fogel
Health Affairs Blog, March 26, 2014

The challenges faced by low-income and middle-income Massachusetts families are particularly worrisome given that the consumer protections for out-of-pocket health care costs are generally better in Massachusetts than those required under the ACA. For individuals with family income between 100 and 200 percent of poverty who are enrolled in the state’s subsidized health insurance program, out-of-pocket spending for covered prescriptions and medical services is limited to $1,000 per benefit year. The ACA allows individuals in this income cohort to have out-of-pocket costs that can sum to more than double this amount ($2,250).

http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2014/03/26/health-insurance-coverage-is-ju…

The provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have provided the nation with health care coverage similar to that which has existed in Massachusetts. However, “the consumer protections for out-of-pocket health care costs are generally better in Massachusetts than those required under the ACA.” Though Massachusetts has better coverage, “Overall, 42.5 percent of all nonelderly adults in the state reported that health care costs had resulted in financial problems or health care access problems for their families in the past year.”

Over half of middle-income adults in Massachusetts also “reported that health care costs had resulted in financial problems or health care access problems for their families.”

Furthermore, “neither higher income nor health insurance coverage protected Bay State families: 31.7 percent of higher-income adults and 38.7 percent of adults with insurance coverage for the full year also reported that health care costs had resulted in problems for their families.”

This is the shocking truth about our new national standard of underinsurance: In spite of having greater financial protection than that offered through the Affordable Care Act, over one-half of middle-income adults and nearly one-third of higher-income adults in Massachusetts still had problems with health care costs. And many of those who didn’t have problems likely avoided them by being fortunate enough to remain healthy. That is not the way an egalitarian health care financing system should work.

This ACA turkey won’t fly. All of us, including many of those with higher incomes, would benefit from single payer.