Health Care Expenses Are Growing Burden for Many Americans, Study Finds

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The percentage of Americans facing high out-of-pocket health care expenses and insurance premiums continues to increase, according to a new Commonwealth Fund–supported <a href="/publications/journal-article/2010/mar/growing-financial-burden-health-care-national-and-state">study</a> published online today by <em>Health Affairs</em>. In 2006, nearly one of five Americans—19.1 percent of the nonelderly population—lived in families spending more than 10 percent of before-tax income on health care, up from one of seven Americans (14.4%) in 2001. <br /><br />The study, conducted by Peter J. Cunningham, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Center for Studying Health System Change, found that in all income brackets, people with private insurance experienced an increase in their health care–related financial burden between 2004 and 2006, with the greatest increase occurring among middle- and higher-income individuals. Even before the onset of the economic recession, the financial burden of health care—the ratio of total out-of-pocket spending for health care services and premiums to total family income—was increasing for many Americans. People with private health insurance, including those with employer-sponsored coverage, were affected the most, as out-of-pocket spending rose faster than family incomes. <br /><br />Cunningham also found substantial variation across states in high financial burden among insured individuals—ranging from a low of 12.4 percent in California to a high of 26.4 percent in Alabama for the period 2004–06. The health reform legislation that was just passed, says Cunningham, "has the potential to reduce the state variation in high financial burden among the uninsured population." <br />