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Health care costs still a major concern

Health Care and Health Insurance
by Chris Merkel
Health care costs still a major concern
Health care costs still a major concern

It's no secret that health care costs have been rising sharply for years now and, even after slowing down somewhat since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, growing costs remain a significant point of concern. To that end, more is being done to both assess and potentially find solutions for the true impact of these higher costs.

Among low-income Americans, the cost of care and coverage is the single biggest factor that affects when and how people seek treatment for their health issues, according to data from the University of Texas Southwestern's Center for Patient-Centered Outcomes Research. This can have a potentially sizable negative impact on their health and may appear to medical professionals as a reluctance to follow through on treatment for potentially non-financial reasons.

To that end, it might be vital for more people in the health care industry to be able to identify when low-income patients are avoiding care due to cost, the report said.

"Financial strain is the burden that prevents many low-income patients from being able to take better care of themselves," said lead author Dr. Oanh Nguyen, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Clinical Sciences at UT Southwestern Medical Center. "This financial strain can cause non-adherence to physician recommendations that appear to reflect a patient's lack of engagement in care. However, this 'non-adherence' is actually the result of rational and difficult trade-offs to cope with financial strain."

Consumers remain worried about higher health care costs.Consumers remain worried about higher health care costs.

A big issue
One of the problems with addressing the way in which health care costs are rising is the extent to which they are outpacing economic improvement, according to the latest Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker. Since December 2007, health care prices have grown about 21.6 percent, versus just 17.3 percent improvement for the nation's economy.

This is due in large part to how much patients who have health insurance cost to care for, the report said. While there has certainly been growth in in-patient care prices since the start of 2015 for patients on government-administered programs like Medicare and Medicaid, that growth is only a little above 3 percent in both cases. Meanwhile, in-patient care for privately insured patients and those without insurance is up 12.7 percent. Meanwhile, the economy has improved about 6 percent over those three-plus years.

As a consequence, the average inflation-adjusted standard payment for a hospital stay is up to nearly $20,000 for privately insured patients, from less than $12,000 in 1996, the report said. There has been effectively no change in inflation-adjusted costs for patients on Medicare or Medicaid making those same stays over the past 12 years. In fact, the stays have actually gotten slightly cheaper for Medicaid patients.

Consumer concerns
It should come as no surprise, then, that many Americans fear getting sick or injured specifically because of the costs they would be likely to incur, according to Consumers for Quality Care. In a recent poll from the organization, conducted by Ipsos, 85 percent of respondents said they were concerned with health care costs, far outstripping most other major financial concerns such as saving for retirement or their kids' college educations (both cited by 73 percent), housing costs (66 percent) or child care (49 percent).

In addition, 59 percent of those polled said they knew their doctors recommended care or treatment based on their current insurance coverage options, and not necessarily what might be best for their recovery.

These are certainly issues for those in health care and the insurance industry to monitor, and for patients to stay informed about as time goes on. With coverage costs only likely to keep rising, consumer concerns are probably going to keep growing right along with them.

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