NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Poll: Many Insured Struggle with Medical Bills

October 14, 2014

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research may help explain why President Barack Obama faces such strong headwinds in trying to persuade the public that his health care law is holding down costs.

The survey found the biggest financial worries among people with so-called high-deductible plans that require patients to pay a big chunk of their medical bills each year before insurance kicks in.

Such plans already represented a growing share of employer-sponsored coverage. Now, they're also the mainstay of the new health insurance exchanges created by Obama's law.

The poll found that people respond to the hit on their wallets in ways that may not help their health:

  • Nineteen percent of all privately insured adults said they did not go to the doctor when they were sick or injured, because of costs. Among those with high-deductible plans, the figure was 29 percent.
  • Seventeen percent skipped a recommended test or treatment; it was 23 percent among those with high-deductible plans.
  • Eighteen percent of all adults went without a physical exam or other preventive care, 24 percent among those with high-deductible plans.

Only about half of those surveyed said they had a strong understanding of what their plans cover.

  • Consumers sometimes pick health insurance based on the monthly premium alone. But low-premium plans have higher deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. People who are concerned about exposure to big bills can come out ahead financially by paying higher premiums for a plan that features lower out-of-pocket costs.
  • Indeed, the poll showed that a majority of those with private insurance, 52 percent, would rather pay a higher premium and limit out-of-pocket costs than lower their premiums and potentially face higher out-of-pocket charges.

Many consumers also said they made financial trade-offs to pay medical bills:

  • Overall, 33 percent said they cut back on entertainment; it was 43 percent among those with high-deductible plans.
  • 18 percent said they used up all or most of their savings, 24 percent among those with high-deductible plans.
  • 19 percent said they dialed down their contributions for retirement savings, 28 percent for people with high-deductible plans.

The telephone poll conducted between July 22 and September 3 included interviews with a random national sample of 1,004 privately insured adults aged 18 to 64. Results for the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points. It is larger for subgroups.

Source: Ricardo Alonso-Zalvidar and Jennifer Agiesta, "Poll:  Many Insured Struggle with Medical Bills," Associated Press, October 13, 2014.


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