A new study last week from the Commonwealth Fund confirmed the shocking gap between lower and higher income Americans when it comes to health insurance coverage. While only 12 percent of families making $89,400 a year (or four times the federal poverty rate for a family of four) was uninsured at some point last year, that figure skyrockets to 57 percent for a family at about $29,700. Mercifully, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), beginning in 2014 that gap will largely be erased. Unless, that is, Republicans take control of the White House and Congress. If the GOP succeeds at the polls in 2012, the health insurance income gap will get much, much worse.
Last March, a previous Commonwealth Fund study found that since the start of the recession, almost 60% of Americans who lost a job and their health insurance - 9 million people - could not afford to regain coverage. Medical costs pushed four million more into bankruptcy. Its 2010 Biennial Health Insurance Survey of over 3,000 adults ages 19-64 highlighted the devastating toll of the Bush recession which started in December 2007:
Both insured adults--who are facing higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs--and uninsured adults cannot afford adequate health care. Seventy-five million adults did not get needed health care in 2010, skipping doctor visits, prescriptions, specialist care, and recommended tests and treatments because of costs. This represents a 60 percent increase from 2001, when 47 million people reported skipping needed care because of costs. Uninsured adults were the most likely to forgo care because of costs, with 66 percent reporting they did so. However, many insured adults were also less insulated from high health care costs--31 percent of adults who were insured all year went without the health care they needed because of costs, up from 21 percent in 2001.
Likewise, 73 million people reported problems paying their medical bills or were paying off medical debt, up from 58 million in 2005. The survey finds that because of medical bills, an estimated 29 million people spent all of their savings, 17 million incurred credit card debt, 22 million were unable to pay for basic necessities like food, heat, and rent, and 4 million declared bankruptcy.
Now, a new Fund analysis revealed the yawning chasm that constitutes the "Income Divide in Health Care":
The new Commonwealth Fund Health Insurance Tracking Survey of U.S. Adults finds nearly three of five adults in families earning less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level were uninsured for a time in 2011; two of five were uninsured for one or more years. Low- and moderate-income adults who were uninsured during the year were much less likely to have a regular source of health care than people in the same income range who were insured all year.
As Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post explained, "This underscores how central the health reform law's expansion of Medicaid -- in which anyone below 133 percent of the poverty line qualifies for the program -- will be to the law's expanded coverage. Everyone represented by the yellow triangles above becomes eligible for Medicaid in 2014."
But the reach of the Affordable Care Act doesn't end there.