Chronic Illness Can Mean Chronic Financial Burden

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Research has shown that an increasing number of U.S. families are experiencing high financial burdens from medical care expenses, as rapidly rising health care costs are passed on to families in the form of higher premiums, deductibles, copayments, and even reduced benefits. For people with chronic health conditions, such burdens can be a long-term problem that threatens their families' financial well-being. <br /><br />In the Commonwealth Fund issue brief <a href="/publications/issue-briefs/2009/jul/chronic-burdens-persistently-high-out-pocket-health-care">Chronic Burdens: The Persistently High Out-of-Pocket Health Care Expenses Faced by Many Americans with Chronic Conditions</a>, Peter J. Cunningham, Ph.D., reports that over a two-year period, 20 percent of nonelderly adults who had a chronic health condition spent more than 5 percent of their income on out-of-pocket expenses and health insurance premiums. Among people with three or more chronic conditions, the proportion spending 5 percent of income—39 percent—was nearly double. Prescription drug spending accounted for more than half the out-of-pocket spending by those with multiple chronic conditions and with persistently high financial burdens lasting two years or more. <br /><br />Cunningham, a senior fellow at the Center for Studying Health System Change, notes that many families able to absorb high out-of-pocket expenses resulting from a one-time event, such as an accident, injury, or acute illness, may be unable to cope with high out-of-pocket expenses for a chronic illness that continues over time. High financial burdens year after year may damage a family's long-term economic prospects, as well as limit access to medications and other services necessary for treating chronic conditions. <br /><br />"In a health system that works for all Americans—including the rising number with multiple chronic illnesses—everyone must have access to comprehensive, affordable health insurance that includes essential benefits, premium subsidies for families with low or moderate incomes, and requirements that coverage can't be denied because of a health problem," says Commonwealth Fund president Karen Davis.