As the debate played out during the contentious summer of 2009 before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, many were deeply concerned that the insurance industry would escalate its war against the American people. We feared and predicted even more egregious price gouging.
As we know, even insured Americans are delaying or forgoing needed and necessary healthcare because the high deductible junk insurance they have (which is all they can afford), requires huge out-of-pocket costs, making healthcare a luxury. And please keep in mind, we’re talking about people with insurance. Insured Americans are consuming less health not because they don’t need to see a doctor, but because they can’t afford to do so. This is what the insurers want, they collect our premiums, sell us high deductible insurance which we can’t even afford to use.
A new study just released by the Kaiser Family Foundation paints as grim a picture of the U.S. healthcare system and its unaffordability, as I have ever read. It is ghastly and our healthcare system is on the precipice of collapse.
After several years of relatively modest premium increases, annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage increased to $15,073 this year, up 9 percent from last year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust 2011 Employer Health Benefits Survey released today. On average, workers pay $4,129 and employers pay $10,944 toward those annual premiums.
Premiums increased significantly faster than workers’ wages (2.1 percent) and general inflation (3.2 percent). Since 2001, family premiums have increased 113 percent, compared with 34 percent for workers’ wages and 27 percent for inflation.
“This year’s nine percent increase in premiums is especially painful for workers and employers struggling through a weak recovery,” Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman, Ph.D. said.
You should not be surprised at this terrible and deeply demoralizing state of affairs. There is little (or nothing) in the Affordable Care Act which requires insurers to make their junk products affordable. Even worse, despite paying a huge percentage of our dwindling income to buy insurance, Americans are paying for almost useless policies. I define a useless policy as one with high deductibles and high out-of-pocket costs. As the economy continues to show little or no improvement, even workers with insurance are not getting the care they need to do all the costs they are expected to shoulder.
And to make a bad situation even more troubling, the added benefits, insurers are now required to provide due to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, are giving them the cover to raise rates to unconscionable levels and ‘blame’ the ACA.
Throughout this year, major health insurers have defended higher premiums — and higher profits — saying that their expenses would rise once the economy recovered and people believed they could again afford medical care. The struggling economy will probably keep suppressing demand for medical care, particularly as people pay a larger share of their own medical bills through higher deductibles and co-payments, according to benefits consultants and others. About three-quarters of workers now pay part of the bill when they go see a doctor, and nearly a third have a deductible of at least $1,000 if they have single coverage, up from just one in 10 in 2006, according Kaiser.
The Affordable Care Act was written without teeth or strong enforcement mechanisms, but that is old, sad news. To be fair, the ACA allocates money to the states to police rate hikes, but it is powerless to stop them, and many believe this is really window dressing to give cover to the politicians and to make the very gullible American people think the government is trying to bring us some relief.
Every day in America, 3,700 families file for bankruptcy caused by illness and medical bills, and that number is rising. This shameful situation happens in no other wealthy democracy. It would be a scandal anywhere else. Most medically bankrupt families were middle-class before they suffered financial setbacks. Roughly 60 percent of them had attended college; 20 percent of families included a military veteran or active-duty soldier.
Most astoundingly, 60 percent of the individuals whose illness led to bankruptcy had private, for-profit health insurance when they got sick. Don’t we buy health insurance to avoid financial ruin? High deductibles lead directly to bankruptcy and foreclosure. To make matters worse, they cause people to postpone needed care. All of which lead to higher insurance company profits.
You should be very, very scared to be an American citizen. I’m sorry to say this, it’s the truth.
Nyceve is a board member for California OneCare. Originally posted in the DailyKos.