Cancer Patient Loses Coverage
Here is a health insurance nightmare we all wish we could avoid. A New Jersey Woman (Denise Prosser, 39) can't afford her next cancer treatment — a radioactive therapy that she's supposed to receive once a year — because she and her husband lost their jobs in December. Without insurance, she has postponed the radiation indefinitely and is taking only half of her asthma medications — sacrifices that often leave her gasping for air and could allow her cancer to come surging back.
"I can't walk more than 100 feet without sounding like I just ran a marathon," says Prosser, of Galloway, N.J.
Prosser is among millions of Americans who struggled last year to pay for health care or medications, the largest poll ever conducted by Gallup shows.
As the economy fell, the percentage who reported having trouble paying for needed health care or medicines during the previous 12 months rose from 18% in January 2008 to 21% in December, according to the poll of 355,334 Americans. Each percentage point change in the full survey represents about 2.2 million people, says Jim Harter, Gallup's chief scientist for well-being and workplace management.
Gallup, along with disease management company Healthways, surveyed a random sample of about 1,000 people nearly every day during 2008 about their physical, emotional and economic well-being.
The poll, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, shows that struggles to pay crossed all socioeconomic lines but hit some Americans harder than others: More than half of the uninsured had trouble paying for health care or medications during the year. So did more than 30% of blacks and Hispanics, compared with 17% of whites and 13% of Asians. Overall, women had more trouble than men. Those who were divorced, widowed or in domestic partner arrangements fared less well than those who were married.
Among other key findings:
- As the year progressed, fewer Americans reported getting health coverage through their jobs, dropping from 59% in the first quarter to 58% by the last.
- The number of African Americans reporting trouble paying for health care or medications rose six percentage points from the first quarter to the last, to 34%. People ages 25-34 also saw a big increase, up five points to 28%.
- Among the states, Hawaii had the smallest percentage of residents who had trouble paying for health care in the previous 12 months at 12%, and Mississippi the most at 29%.
"The biggest problem that the country has is actually the cost of health care," says Jim Clifton, Gallup's CEO. "It's a lot bigger problem than war and a bigger problem than the current meltdown because there are no fixes to it on the horizon right now. … You can't just throw money at it. That's still not a fix."
The increasing trouble people have paying for medical care comes as Congress begins its most serious health care overhaul debate in 15 years — and as the economy continues to shed jobs.
Because most people still get health insurance through their jobs — rather than buying it themselves or being covered by a government program such as Medicare — the loss of a job can mean the loss of insurance.
Nearly 4.4 million people have lost jobs since the recession began in December 2007, the U.S. Department of Labor reports. Nearly one in 10 children and one in five adults under age 65 are uninsured, says a February report on the uninsured from the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, which advises the government on health care.
People without insurance are at much higher risk for a host of medical problems, the institute's report shows. They're less likely to get preventive care, more likely to be diagnosed with later-stage cancers and more likely to die if they suffer a heart attack, stroke, lung problem, hip fracture, seizure or trauma.
"The evidence clearly shows that lack of health insurance is hazardous to one's health," says report co-author Lawrence Lewin. "And the situation is getting worse."
Lower-income residents are more likely to have trouble paying medical bills and to lack insurance. Income also plays a role in how people feel about their own physical well-being.
The Gallup-Healthways poll found that 40% of those making $500 to $1,000 a month said they were dissatisfied with their health. By comparison, only 10% of wealthy people — those making at least $10,000 a month — are dissatisfied with their health.
Your Health or Insurance Company Profits
We all know that people have different ideologies about the proper role of government. Some people, who tend to be left of center, think that the government's role is to try to promote the general good, by providing basic services, protecting the poor and the sick, and ensuring a well-working economy. On the other hand, there are others, who usually place themselves right of center, who believe that the proper role of government is to redistribute as much income as possible to the wealthy.
These competing views of government are coming to a head in the debate over national health care reform. Those who think that the role of government is to serve the public good are likely to favor some form of universal Medicare. Such a system would almost certainly save a huge amount in administrative costs at the level of insurers, providers and government oversight.
Private insurers spend more than 15 percent of the money they collect in premiums on administrative costs. By contrast, Medicare spends about 2 percent. Part of the insurers' administrative expenses go toward marketing -- an expense that would be unnecessary in a universal Medicare system.
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