Following up on last week’s post which talked about how even insured Americans are shelling out more and more dollars out of pocket to pay for their healthcare, guest blogger Emily Willingham, PhD tells us that research suggest that in addition to that frightening trend there is even more to fear when it comes to paying for healthcare access, even if you have health insurance.
A study from Harvard and Ohio universities of bankruptcies reports that in 2007, even before we hit an economic rock bottom, a family in the US filed for bankruptcy post illness every 90 seconds.
About 75% of them had insurance, according to the study. I don’t know what the word “insurance” once meant, but today it means that you pay for something that provides nothing in the way of assurance that you won’t go bankrupt over an illness.
More than 60% of US bankruptcies in 2007 were related to overwhelming costs of medical illness, the study results indicate. Likely, they had no idea at the time of the costs they were accruing. Even with insurance, the Byzantine rules for payments and writeoffs make the entire calculus a deep mystery.
It wasn’t always like this. The Harvard/Ohio study reports that the percentage of bankruptcies attributable to medical issues has increased by 50% since 2001 (N.B.: a dissenter on the data here, plus interesting discussion in the comments). Obviously, things have gotten out of hand, and families in dire health straits are paying for it, sometimes twice for the “insurance” that provides no assurance, and then with everything they have.
What can I say about this that isn’t obvious? Obviously, it’s not right that people must add financial anxiety, stress, and loss to the native stress that accompanies illness. Obviously, it’s not right that the insurance we pay for provides no assurance whatsoever that our out-of-pocket burden won’t bloom into the five figures annually–I know ours does. Obviously, something that is right needs to be done. Ethics and economics require a national health care that serves as a safety net for everyone in times of exigent medical need. Receiving adequate medical care is not equivalent to overspending on a Lexus or foolishly taking out a mortgage you can’t afford, and it shouldn’t be treated as such.
Oprah may spiritualize the mind-body connection, but in a physiological sense, it is very real. The stress of anticipating a financial catastrophe shouldn’t be added to a person’s efforts to recover from illness–or to their decisions about whether or not to pursue adequate care.