Health Team

JAMA Study: Rising Health Costs Burden Families

Posted December 12, 2006 9:31 p.m. EST
Updated December 16, 2006 1:15 p.m. EST

For many people, even with insurance, the cost of health care is taking too big of a bite out of their budget. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it is not an uncommon situation.

"Our study documents what many people suspected, that these rising health care costs are falling on families and people in ways that take up a lot of the family budget," said Dr. Jessica Banthin of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Researchers tracked national data on Americans under age 65. They consider people to be burdened if 10 percent or more of their family income is spent to pay for health care needs. That is the situation for 49 million Americans.

The study found that between 1996 and 2003, 11.7 million more people fell into that category. That includes a third of people living in poor families and a quarter of people in low- and middle-income families.

"It doesn't matter what type of health insurance you have. The risk is the same for people who receive health insurance coverage through their employer," Banthin said.

The risk of financial burden is highest for the self-employed or for people with serious, chronic illness such as diabetes. In 2003, 18 million Americans spent more than 20 percent of their income on health care.

The cost can keep many patients from getting health care until it is too late.

"We find out that they have cancer or some other chronic disease that could have been better managed if they had had earlier screening," said Dr. Luis Padilla of Upper Cordozo Health Center.

For people with insurance, the health care expenditures in the study included things such as premiums, deductibles, co-pays and prescriptions.