I liked this article at The Colorado Trust, written by Dr. Ned Calonge. Dr. Calonge is writing about the 2011 Colorado Health Access Survey results that were published last fall. That survey found – unsurprisingly – that the number of uninsured residents in Colorado had increased since 2009, and that the primary reason people did not have health insurance was because they could not afford it.
Dr. Calonge makes a good point though when he notes that the affordability of healthcare is a “complex and subjective issue” – basically, what is deemed affordable by one family might be viewed as unaffordable by another family, even if both families have the same income level. He points out that there isn’t much of a pattern with regards to income when it comes to whether or not a family will say that they are able to afford health insurance, or how much they think they could pay for health insurance.
These are excellent points. Whether or not we can afford something is usually somewhat subjective. Ok, so most of us can’t afford to buy our own tropical island, no matter how we crunch the numbers. But two families earning the same income level will almost always have different items that they “can” and “can’t” afford. One family might spend far more than the other on food, while the other family might drive a much more expensive car. In reality, “affordability” is often about choices and priorities.
Health insurance is definitely not cheap. For those who qualify for programs like Medicaid and CHP+, the subsidized or free coverage is likely a lifesaver. But what about middle class families who don’t qualify for public health insurance, but for whom health insurance premiums are a budget buster? Why is health insurance more of a priority for one family than for another (to the point that one family will cut their budget in other areas, like clothing and vacations and vehicles, in order to keep paying for their health insurance)? Is it all about personal experience? If you’ve had a medical scare or have a loved one who has had significant medical bills (especially at a young age, or for an out-of-the-blue medical condition), are you more likely to rearrange your priorities to make health insurance affordable, regardless of your income? If you’ve always been healthy, are you more likely to see health insurance as a money-pit and opt to spend your money elsewhere?
We know that the percentage of our income that is being spent on healthcare has climbed significantly over the past decade. For a lot of people, it’s becoming a much more significant monthly expense than it used to be. But whether or not it’s “affordable” really depends on the person being asked.