A recent article by Joe Paduda about the impact of the recession on health care explains what most of us have probably already suspected: Americans have cut back on their use of routine medical care. I’d say that it’s also highly likely that the increasing number of uninsured people over the last couple years is contributing to the problem. Employers have been less likely to offer group health insurance because of the recession, and there are a lot more unemployed people than there were a few years ago. In addition, individuals who purchase their own health insurance – especially those who are currently healthy – have been more likely to drop their coverage in order to fulfill other financial obligations. Not only does that leave them completely vulnerable if they do become sick or injured, but it also drives up health insurance premiums for the people who remain on the policy, which in turn leads to more people dropping their coverage because they can’t afford the premiums.
I haven’t seen any new data released recently comparing the population with health insurance in 2007 versus 2009, but my guess is that there are a lot more uninsured Americans now than there were a few years ago.
As Joe pointed out, higher deductibles and copays also play a role. Two years ago, before the recession had really taken hold, researchers had already found out that people with high deductible health insurance policies were two to three times more likely (compared with people covered by traditional health insurance plans) to stop taking medications to control chronic conditions. For people who opt for a HDHP but then don’t set up and fund an HSA, paying for health care can indeed be a major hurdle. And if people with high deductible health plans were skipping their meds back in 2008, it makes sense that after two years of a recession, health care costs have taken even more of a backseat for families struggling to make ends meet.
Copays and deductibles have risen for most families over the last few years, even those who don’t have policies that qualify as high deductible. And at the same time, economic stability has decreased for most families. This isn’t a good combination, and Joe’s right about the fact that when people skip necessary routine medical care, it will likely lead to increased medical costs (and declining health) in the future.
Joe’s article was included in the Health Wonk Review this week, hosted by InsureBlog.