This probably won’t come as much of a surprise, but a study released last week by Families USA has found that health insurance in Colorado is becoming less affordable. According to the study, 1.1 million Colorado residents (out of a total state population of 4.8 million people) will spend more than 10% of their pre-tax income on health care in 2008. Jay and I will be part of that number in 2008. The combination of health insurance premiums, dental premiums, possibly meeting our $3,000 deductible to get Jay’s knee checked out, and paying out of pocket for prenatal and childbirth expenses will take more than 10% of our income for the year. We’re lucky though, in that until now, our only real expense has generally been our health insurance premiums, and we’ve never really needed to use it. And the childbirth expenses were something we were able to plan ahead. And we anticipate getting back to our usual health care costs in 2009, with health insurance premiums – although ever-rising – being our main expense.
But what about families that pay more than 10% of their income for health care year after year? What about families that are without health insurance because of a job loss, or pre-existing medical conditions? The latter causes a vicious cycle of health care costs, since the person may not be eligible for individual health insurance and may not be able to afford Cover Colorado, but is almost guaranteed to have health care expenses because of whatever condition prevented them from getting individual health insurance. And even for those who have health insurance, what about the people who have chronic conditions that cause them to meet their deductible every year, or pay every month for expensive medications that may or may not be covered by their health insurance?
75% of the Colorado families who completed the Families USA survey have health insurance. According to U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver:
Exorbitant health care costs are no longer limited to uninsured. At this rate, middle-class families will no longer be able to keep up with rising health care costs and businesses will drop coverage altogether. Insurance simply no longer offers protection that families need.
Several of the health insurance companies that we represent have released their 2008 rates for Colorado, and in some cases we’re seeing increases of 30% or more – even from reputable, stable carriers. For most families, that sort of price hike is a major budget squeezer. Many of them have had us compare rates with other carriers or increase their deductibles. People are juggling their finances to fit in health insurance premiums, and it makes us wonder how many families will just throw up their hands and decide to stop juggling and start gambling – going without health insurance because the premiums have gotten out of reach.
At what point will people consider health care costs to be too high? I’ve written before about one of the main roadblocks to reforming health care is that fact that a majority of Coloradans and Americans still get comprehensive health insurance from their employers and have relatively low out of pocket costs. So health care reform is not a priority for them. The 1.1 million Colorado residents who will pay more than 10% of their income next year for health care probably think that health care expenses are already unaffordable. But are the other 3.7 million Colorado residents on board with reform efforts? Are we all willing to pay more in taxes (and less in direct health care costs) in order to spread the burden of health care expenses more evenly across our population? Or will we have to get to a point where half of our population is paying more for health care than for housing before we stop arguing political idealogies and fix the system once and for all?