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Poll: Many Americans Struggling to Pay for Health Care

By Miriam Straus, CQ Staff

May 1, 2008 -- Health care costs caused many people to postpone or go without treatment in the last year, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

The survey examined the effects of health expenses. Forty-two percent of respondents said that because of costs, they or a member of their household had delayed or skipped medical care or tests, not filled a prescription or reduced dosage, or had difficulty obtaining mental health care. Two-thirds of those people said that their medical condition had worsened as a result.

Seventy-five percent of respondents without health insurance reported these problems, compared with 40 percent of those with insurance. Lower-income respondents were more likely than middle class or higher-income respondents to report such consequences.

Health costs also affected employment and personal decisions. Twenty-three percent of respondents said that they or a member of their household made a job decision based primarily on health benefits in the last year, and 7 percent said that they or someone in their household had gotten married because of access to health benefits.

Nearly one-third of respondents said that paying for health care and health insurance was a serious problem for them, and many said that health care expenses had caused them financial troubles. One of five respondents reported that they had been contacted by a collection agency because of medical bills, and 17 percent said they had used up all or most of their savings.

People without insurance were more likely to report difficulties. One-quarter of uninsured respondents aged 18–64 said that they had been unable to pay for basic necessities because of medical bills, while 11 percent of those with insurance reported this. Lower-income people were more likely to experience financial troubles as a consequence of medical bills, the survey found.

"Paying for health care has become a key dimension of the public's economic concerns," Kaiser President Drew E. Altman said in a statement.

A nationally representative random sample of 2,003 adults was interviewed by telephone between April 3 and 13, 2008 for the poll, which was released Tuesday. The margin of sampling error for the survey is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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