Millions of uninsured Americans will get health coverage from the newly implemented Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but simply having insurance isn’t enough. Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein of Physicians For a National Health Program write in Common Dreams that the Massachusetts “reform plan,” upon which PPACA was based, isn’t preventing patients from going broke.

Obama Health Law Unlikely to Stem Medical Bankruptcies

by Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein
When President Obama kicked off his health reform push, he highlighted our research finding that 2 million Americans suffer medical bankruptcy each year, promising to end this disgrace. Our latest figures warn that his reform won’t stanch the flow of medical debtors.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed by Congress in March 2010 was modeled after Massachusetts’ 2006 health reform plan – a plan that’s now been up and running for more than three years. So Massachusetts offers a preview of what to expect when the ACA is fully implemented in 2014.

Unfortunately, medical bankruptcies haven’t dropped much – if at all – in Massachusetts. When we surveyed bankruptcy filers there in August 2009, 53 percent cited illness or medical bills as a cause of their bankruptcy, a percentage that’s statistically indistinguishable from the 59 percent figure we found in early 2007. Indeed, because the total number of bankruptcies soared in 2009, the actual number of medical bankruptcies increased from 7,504 in 2007 to 10,093 in 2009.

Why are so many people still suffering medical bankruptcies despite Massachusetts’ health reform? While only 4 percent of the state’s residents remain uninsured, much of the new coverage is so skimpy that serious illness leaves families with crushing medical bills.

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