Tuesday, August 07, 2007

New study finds 24% of Americans "underinsured"

From consumeraffairs.com:

A new Consumer Reports study identifies the “underinsured” -- accounting for 24% of the U.S. population -- living with skeletal health insurance that barely covers their medical needs and leaves them unprepared to pay for major medical expenses.

Forty-nine percent of people overall, and 43 percent of people with insurance said they were “somewhat” to “completely” unprepared to cope with a costly medical emergency over the coming year.

Some 16 percent had no health plan at all, including many working respondents whose jobs didn’t offer insurance or who couldn’t afford the premiums of deductibles of the available plan.

When added to the population of “uninsured” -- approximately 16% of the population -- a total of 40% of Americans ages 18-64 have, at best, inadequate access to health care. The report, published in the September issue, also finds that most employers are struggling to keep up while the insurance behemoths prosper from the misery.
Being “underinsured” in the study meant that health plans didn't adequately cover costs of prescription drugs, doctor visits, medical tests, surgery or other medical procedures and catastrophic medical conditions, or the deductible was too high. Indeed, the median household income of respondents who were “underinsured” was $58,950, well above the U.S. median, and twenty-two percent live in households making more than $100,000. Yet 43% still reported that they postponed going to the doctor because they couldn’t afford it.

Because of the way health insurance works, insurers haven’t been paying much of a penalty for failing to contain costs. Insurers typically keep around 15 and 25 percent of the premiums they collect. As noted in the CR investigation, the nation’s six biggest private health insurers collectively earned nearly $11 billion in profits in 2006.

Employers are struggling to keep up: in the past five years, insurance premiums have risen three times as fast as inflation. While employers by and large have not asked employees to pay a bigger share of the overall premium, employees are still paying rising premiums.

In 2000, the average employee contribution for family coverage was $135 per month and in 2006 it was $248. People who work for small companies bear the biggest brunt because those companies have fewer employees over which to spread medical risk. And lower paid workers also get hit hard because premiums and co-pays typically cost the same for everyone, regardless of income.
This is another example of how universality can only be the first goal in fixing our broken health care system and that eliminating insurance providers altogether under a single-payer system may be the only plan that can truly alleviate all of these problems.

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