Coping with increasing out-of-pocket health-care expenses

Published Feb 7, 2013 at 04:00AM

Some Americans suffering from serious medical conditions must juggle household budgets, delay or skimp on needed care or go into debt, even though they have health insurance.

A new study published in the January/February issue of the Annals of Family Medicine examines the effects of out-of-pocket costs for health-care expenses. The purpose of the study, its authors wrote, was to assess how families are managing as the growth of health-care costs continues to outpace wages.

It examines the situations of 33 people, all insured and with chronic illnesses, who had sought financial assistance to help pay their medical bills. Two-thirds of them were covered by Medicare.

Participants described building up credit card debt and being hounded by debt collectors. Others discussed prioritizing buying drugs and then buying food with whatever money was left. Still others said they went without needed care because they couldn’t afford their portion of the expected bill. The situations were causing anxiety and stress.

The researchers note that the federal Affordable Care Act is due to ease some of these pressures, most notably in 2020, when it will close a coverage gap — sometimes called the “doughnut hole” — in Medicare Part D. But they also say the act isn’t likely to change the trend of increasing financial contributions by patients.

— Heidi Hagemeier, The Bulletin