The Independent Institute


Two Years into Obamacare, No Change in Share of Working-Age Americans with Trouble Paying Medical Bills

The Kaiser Family Foundation and the New York Times have published the results of a survey of Americans, aged 18 through 64, which questioned respondents about their troubles paying medical bills. What is most interesting about the survey, which was conducted in September 2015, is that it shows no change in the proportion of people with trouble paying medical bills versus a similar survey from 2005, which surveyed all adults.

That is, despite a large decrease in the proportion of working-age people categorized as “uninsured” (even though many have actually become dependent on Medicaid, a joint state-federal welfare program, instead of actual insurance) one-quarter of us still have trouble paying medical bills.

  • In 2015, 15 percent spent “all or most” of their savings on medical bills. In 2005, it was 12 percent.
  • In 2015, 10 percent “borrowed money from friends or family” and nine percent “increased credit card debt.” In 2005, eight percent reported “borrowing money or taking out another mortgage.”
  • In 2015, 32 percent “put off/postponed getting health care you needed.” In 2005, 29 percent of adults report “they or someone in their household skipped medical treatment, cut pills, or did not fill a prescription in the past year because of the cost.”
  • In 2015, three percent declared personal bankruptcy because of medical bills, the same as 2015.

What is also interesting is that although respondents blame drug companies and insurers for the high cost of health care, the cost of seeing a physician was a bigger contributor to trouble paying medical bills than the cost of prescriptions. In 2015, 65 percent of those who had trouble paying medical bills struggled to pay for doctor visits, but only 52 percent struggled to pay for prescriptions. In 2005, the proportions were 85 percent and 56 percent.

Further, individuals are still struggling to succeed as consumers:

  • In 2015, 10 percent tried to negotiate with a doctor, hospital, or other provider, versus 11 percent in 2005.
  • In 2015, 34 percent said their doctor never explained the cost of a procedure and 29 percent said it rarely This looks to have deteriorated since 2005, when 35 percent said costs were never explained, but only 17 percent said costs were rarely explained.

Despite headlines proclaiming a significant decline the share of Americans without insurance, it appears Obamacare has had no effect on people’s financial ability to pay for health care.

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For the pivotal alternative to Obamacare, please see Independent Institute’s book, A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, by John C. Goodman.

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