A recent New York Times/Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 1 in 5 insured American’s struggle to pay medical related expenses. On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, which enacted comprehensive health care reform. The massive law contains countless provisions, with some of the most controversial and contested being the individual and employer mandates. Due in part to the mandates, decreased costs of yearly/monthly premiums, and restrictions on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, the uninsured rate has dropped 6 percent, from 15.1 percent to 9.2 percent, since the ACA was enacted. Despite the impressive increase in insured American’s, the new NY Times/Kaiser study suggests that insuring more Americans is only one part of solving America’s mounting healthcare problems.
The study suggests that many Americans are taking second jobs, working longer hours, or cutting back on household expenses to pay the costs of medical treatment not covered by their insurance. Margot Sanger-Katz, in a NY Times article summarizing the study, suggests that although insurance premiums are lower, the lower premiums are offset by higher deductibles. The article highlights several examples of Americans that were blindsided by unexpected medical bills, including one individual who lost her home due to extensive medical costs despite being insured. Is there any solution to this growing problem? President Obama’s administration is constantly battling attacks on the ACA. Given Congress’ recent attempt to repeal portions of the ACA, which President Obama not surprisingly repealed on Friday, January 8th , it seems unlikely that Congress will pass any additional legislation to further regulate the insurance industry. What relief do Americans have when it seems that the only way to avoid medical debt is to stay healthy?
The Huffington Post suggests that the situation is not so bleak for at least some sectors of the population. “The data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the number of people in households that faced problems paying medical bills decreased by 12 million from the first half of 2011 through the first six months of this year.” The data further suggests that “among the poor, the share of those with problems fell from 32.1 percent to 24.5 percent,” which is an even more significant decrease in problems than their middle-class counterparts.
With the uninsured rate at historic lows, and still many Americans struggling to make ends meet while receiving needed medical treatments, additional health care reform seems necessary. However, given the current political landscape and Congress’ overwhelming disdain for health care reform introduced by the current administration, it seems unlikely that much-needed change will occur. Where does that leave American’s who are facing the life-changing decision of depleting hard-earned savings to have a fighting chance at treatment, surgery or recovery? A recent article from the Las Vegas Review Journal suggests negotiating upfront with hospitals for fair rates can help control mounting medical expenses. However, more often than not, staying healthy is the best way to avoid medical debt and keep hard-earned money in the bank.