The proportion of working-age Americans who have medical bill problems or who are paying off medical debt climbed from 34 percent to 41 percent between 2005 and 2007, a new report from the New York City-based Commonwealth Fund finds.
Based on data from four years of the Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey, Losing Ground: How the Loss of Adequate Health Insurance is Burdening Working Families (51 pages, PDF) found that a "perfect storm" of negative economic trends is battering working families across the country: the federal minimum wage is now three dollars an hour lower, in real terms, than it was forty years ago; gas and food prices are soaring; home values are declining; and growth in healthcare costs is far outstripping income growth. As a result, insurance coverage deteriorated over the past six years, with declines in coverage most severe for moderate-income families. Nearly 9 million U.S. adults under age 65 have lost their health insurance since 2000.
At the same time, the number of insured adults who spend more than 5 percent or 10 percent of income on health care and insurance rose across all income groups between 2001 and 2007. As a result, the number of underinsured adults climbed to 25 million people in 2007, up from 16 million in 2003. An additional 7 million adults age 65 and older also reported bill or debt problems. While the increase occurred across all income groups, families with low and moderate incomes were particularly hard hit; more than half of adults with incomes under $40,000 reported problems with their medical bills in 2007.
All told, in 2007 nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults — some 116 million people — struggled to pay medical bills, went without needed care because of cost, were uninsured for a time, or were underinsured. According to the report, declining insurance coverage and rising healthcare costs are likely contributing to skimping on needed care.
"Healthcare costs are climbing much more rapidly than incomes or the growth in the overall economy," Sara R. Collins, assistant vice president of the Commonwealth Fund and one of the authors of the report told the Washington Post. "What is notable is how these problems are spreading up the income scale."