I know we all know (often from personal experience) that rising health care costs are eating into the financial well being of millions of Americans. However, it’s always nice to have that knowledge validated by government sponsored research:


WASHINGTON — Health care costs now eat up more than 10 percent of the family income of nearly 50 million Americans under 65, according to a new study by government researchers.

Their estimates, published today in The Journal of the American Medical Association, are based on federal consumer surveys done in 1996 and 2003 that counted all out-of-pocket health care costs.

By 2003, they calculate there were 48.8 million individuals (19.2 percent of the non-elderly population) living in families that spent more than 10 percent of household income on medical care, an increase of 11.7 million people since 1996. […]

Of this group, 18.7 million (7.3 percent of the total population) were in families spending more than 20 percent of family income on medical care.

Among those more likely to face higher-than-average health care costs were low-income individuals, those with individual rather than group coverage, people in the pre-retirement age bracket of 55 to 64, women, people living outside metro areas and people with chronic medical conditions.

“We also noted that high out-of-pocket burdens are associated with delaying or forgoing medical care for financial reasons, behavior that can have severe consequences for those in poor health,” Banthin said.

Sounds like my situation.

Although we have reasonably good group health and dental insurance through my spouse’s employer, my family over the last two years has spent, on average, over $20,000 on out of pocket expenses related to health care. I won’t tell you what percentage of our income that represents, but it is significantly more than 10 percent. And that figure doesn’t include what we pay each month for our health insurance coverage which is automatically deducted from my wife’s paycheck.

My wife, my daughter and I all suffer from chronic medical conditions. I have personally put off needed dental care and cut back on my own doctor visits in order to save money. We’ve even started to eat into our savings to cover some of these expenses. If my wife ever loses her job I don’t know what we would do.

And we’re the lucky ones. I know any number of people in my community who face far greater hardships as a result of health related problems for which they have inadequate insurance. A fact that the government researchers confirmed:

They calculate that 17.1 million people had inadequate financial protection from high out-of-pocket costs in 2003, including 9.3 million who were in private, employment-related plans, 1.3 million with individual coverage and 6.6 million with public coverage.

Health care costs have been rising faster than inflation and the overall economy in the United States for many years. Out-of-pocket payment for health care by patients rose from $162 billion in 1997 to $236 billion in 2004, out of a total national health bill of nearly $2 trillion.

If there is one thing the Democrats in Congress could do this year and the next to expand their newly won majorities in Congress and capture the White House in the 2008, it would be to address the ever expanding burden health care costs place on the 99% of Americans who aren’t ridiculously wealthy. We have privatized our health care system under Republican rule for the benefit of special interests (Insurance and Pharmaceutical companies, for the most part) and the results have been devastating for millions of Americans. Americans like me. Americans like you.

Time to start spending some of that political capital the Democrats won last November on the only special interest that really matters: our families.