64 Million Americans Still Can’t Afford Medical Care
Policy + Politics

64 Million Americans Still Can’t Afford Medical Care

Obamacare has made inroads, but costs are still an issue.


Though Obamacare has succeeded in expanding coverage to millions of Americans, the health law has not yet fully addressed the affordability of care. A survey just out from the Commonwealth Fund found that about 66 million people in the U.S. have delayed or put off medical treatment for cost reasons in the last 12 months.

The study also estimated that about 64 million people had difficulty paying their medical bills over that same period.

Related: High Deductible Plans Have More People Delaying Treatment

One of the primary goals of Obamacare has been to rein in costs – so the new health law hasn’t yet accomplished what it set out to do. Although the survey found that the number of people who rationed care in 2014 actually declined from 80 million in 2012, a large group of people are still struggling with unaffordable care.

“Although we are seeing a decline in access problems due to cost, these rates remain high for insured people especially with low incomes,” said Sara Collins, one of the report’s co-authors.

Collins said Obamacare is likely driving the decline, since more people are getting health coverage. Yet she warned that “there is a risk that problems will remain because of ever-growing deductibles and cost sharing in all types of coverage, including employer plans.”

Related: How Obamacare Rates with Consumers One Year Later

A Gallup poll released in December on the same topic found that a significant number of people – about a third – said they’ve delayed medical treatment because of the high cost of care. Gallup’s Rebecca Riffkin also noted that the reason people are rationing care is likely attributed to the shift to higher deductible plans and out-of-pocket costs.

Lower tiered plans sold on the health exchanges tend to have low premiums, but higher than average deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. A HealthPocket study released in November found the average deductible for 2015 Bronze-level policies, the lowest tiered plan, is about $5,181 for individuals, while families who enroll in these plans have deductibles averaging about $10,500. 

The cost of premiums and deductibles vary widely, of course, depending on the plan and on where consumers live. Though health care rationing is on the decline, the shift toward high deductible plans could still prove burdensome for a large number of families who are already forced to delay treatment.

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