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Commonwealth Fund Study: Having Insurance Does Not Prevent Medical Bill Stress

By CQ Staff

September 8, 2011 -- The number of underinsured adults—who often skip needed medical tests or don't fill prescriptions—increased by 80 percent between 2003 and 2010, according to a study released by The Commonwealth Fund.

The study found that 44 percent of U.S. adults—81 million people—either were underinsured or uninsured in 2010, up from 75 million in 2007 and 61 million in 2003.

Underinsured families are at nearly as high risk as the uninsured because, while they have health insurance, holes or limits in their plans exposes them to often unaffordable medical costs,'' said Cathy Schoen, senior vice president at The Commonwealth Fund and lead author of the study, which was published in Health Affairs.

The report says that the health care overhaul law (PL 111-142, PL 111-158) could provide significant relief to these who are underinsured. But Schoen cautions that the plans offered once the law takes full effect in 2014, must "keep deductibles and out-of-pocket costs low for essential, effective health care."

The data for the study comes from The Commonwealth Fund 2010 Health Insurance Survey, a telephone survey of 4,005 adults conducted by Princeton Research Associates International from July 14 to Nov. 30, 2010.

The study found that 46 percent of underinsured and 63 percent of adults without any insurance didn't fill a prescription, see a doctor when they were sick or went without a recommended medical test or treatment compared with 28 percent of those with more adequate health insurance.

And only slightly fewer underinsured (52 percent) people had trouble paying their medical bills, were contacted by a collections agency, had to change their way of life to pay medical bills or were paying off medical debt over time than those without coverage (58 percent). That compares with 27 percent of well insured adults who had such problems.

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