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How you feelin’?

Helen Palmer Apr 26, 2006


KAI RYSSDAL: How you feelin? Reasonably healthy? No need to tap your medical insurance? Well, that’s good. Because there’s some research out today that says even moderate income Americans are getting priced out of decent coverage. From the Marketplace Health Desk at WGBH, Helen Palmer has more.

HELEN PALMER: The Commonwealth Fund’s Karen Davis says only about a quarter of Americans with modest incomes were uninsured five years ago, but things have changed.

KAREN DAVIS: We found that in 2005, 41% of people with incomes between $20,000 and $40,000 were uninsured.

In all, about 46 million people don’t have insurance. That’s partly because employers are getting out of the health insurance game, says Diane Rowland of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

DIANE ROWLAND: The percentage of employers offering coverage to workers has fallen from 69% in 2000 to 60% in 2005.

Most small employers just can’t afford it, says Rowland. That’s because their premium costs have shot up 73% in the last five years.

ROWLAND: Today a family policy would cost in the neighborhood of $10,880.

Virtually all large companies still provide coverage, but they’re off-loading more of the costs onto wage-earners. Health costs are rising three times faster than wages.

No wonder over a third of Americans have trouble paying medical bills, says the Commonwealth Fund’s Karen Davis. Lack of coverage can be serious for people with chronic diseases.

DAVIS: Almost 60% of them were either not filling their medications or skipping pills trying to stretch the prescription to go further.

And they’re twice as likely to end up in the hospital.

Davis says there’s no easy way to cover more Americans with modest incomes. Though new plans in states like Massachusetts and Maine might help. But you still have to control costs. And few Americans want to give up the latest in high-tech, high-price care.

In Boston, I’m Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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