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Good luck buying your own health insurance

Helen Palmer Sep 14, 2006

BOB MOON: Maybe you’re laboring under the illusion you can always find health coverage, even if your employer doesn’t provide it, or perhaps decides to drop it because it’s too expensive. A report out today says finding your own health care is a lot harder than you may think. Helen Palmer has more from the Health Desk at WGBH.

HELEN PALMER: Nine of every 10 people who tried to buy a health plan for themselves failed. That’s what the non-profit Commonwealth Fund found.

SARA COLLINS: Fifty-eight percent said it was very difficult or impossible to find a plan they could afford.

Study author Sara Collins.

COLLINS: Even when they can find a plan they can afford, many are turned down because of a pre-existing condition. So about 20 percent are turned down because of a health problem.

And nearly half of people who bought individual coverage had to pay 5 percent or more of their incomes on premiums. Michael Chernew, who teaches health policy at Harvard says getting health coverage isn’t just a problem for people trying to buy in the individual insurance market . . .

MICHAEL CHERNEW: As health care costs go up, it becomes expensive for everybody in every market to buy coverage.

That’s one reason employers are dropping coverage for their workers — only 60 percent offer it now, compared with 69 percent six years ago. The country as a whole needs to tackle the problem of ever-rising costs, says Chernew, and there is no obvious fix for it. Duke University health policy professor Chris Conover says we need to rethink health coverage.

CHRIS CONOVER: The solution to the problem lies in restructuring the $200 billion worth of subsidies we now provide to people with employer plans.

People need the same kind of tax breaks to buy their own insurance. Experts agree that high deductible plans, where patients pay more out of pocket before insurance kicks in, can help. But the Commonwealth Fund’s report found that nearly half of people with these plans skipped care because of cost. And a fifth of them ended up taking on credit card debt to pay medical bills.

In Boston, I’m Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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