Dollars & Sense

Health insurance shortfalls charted

Updated: 2013-04-26T01:38:07Z

By DIANE STAFFORD

The Kansas City Star

Forty-six percent of Americans age 19 to 64 had no health insurance at some point in 2012 or had insufficient insurance to help cover high out-of-pocket medical costs.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, which has surveyed health care coverage trends every two years, 84 million adults were uninsured or underinsured last year.

Underinsurance was defined as not having enough insurance compared to household income size so that high out-of-pocket medical costs caused financial distress.

Also, 75 million, or two out of every five adults, said they had trouble paying medical bills or were paying off medical debts.

The survey, released today, revealed one bright spot in the health care coverage data: The percentage of uninsured young people ages 19-25 fell to 41 percent from 48 percent. The 2010 health care law required insurance companies to let children stay on their parents’ health plans up to age 26.

Overall, though, Commonwealth Fund researchers have found that the percentages of uninsured and underinsured Americans grew steadily from 2003 to 2010. The number leveled off from 2010 to 2012, partly because of slower growth in health care costs.

Sara Collins, a Commonwealth Fund vice president and principal author of the report, said unemployment and lower household incomes probably contributed to less use of health care.

The survey, which consisted of 25-minute landline and cellphone interviews with 4,432 adults, found increased reports of people skipping needed health care because they didn’t think they could afford it.

The report estimated that 80 million Americans last year didn’t go to a doctor when they were sick or skipped filling a prescription because of the cost, compared with 63 million in 2003.

The report also looked at how the Affordable Care Act might affect the uninsured and underinsured. It said:

• 87 percent of the 55 million uninsured Americans last year had incomes that would make them eligible for federally subsidized health insurance through the planned insurance marketplace or expanded Medicaid under the law.

• 85 percent of the 30 million underinsured adults might be eligible for Medicaid or a subsidized health insurance plan, with lower out-of-pocket costs.

The complete survey is at www.commonwealthfund.org.

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com.

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