Health Insurers Making Record Profits

NYTimes 13 May, 2010

Health Insurers Making Record Profits as Many Postpone Care

The nation’s major health insurers are barreling into a third year of record profits, enriched in recent months by a lingering recessionary mind-set among Americans who are postponing or forgoing medical care.
(…)
Yet the companies continue to press for higher premiums, even though their reserve coffers are flush with profits and shareholders have been rewarded with new dividends. Many defend proposed double-digit increases in the rates they charge, citing a need for protection against any sudden uptick in demand once people have more money to spend on their health, as well as the rising price of care.

The United States is the only developed nation where a person can be bankrupted by medical costs
America Journal of Medicine

Abstract

Background
Our 2001 study in 5 states found that medical problems contributed to at least 46.2% of all bankruptcies. Since then, health costs and the numbers of un- and underinsured have increased, and bankruptcy laws have tightened.

Methods
We surveyed a random national sample of 2314 bankruptcy filers in 2007, abstracted their court records, and interviewed 1032 of them. We designated bankruptcies as “medical” based on debtors’ stated reasons for filing, income loss due to illness, and the magnitude of their medical debts.

Results
Using a conservative definition, 62.1% of all bankruptcies in 2007 were medical; 92% of these medical debtors had medical debts over $5000, or 10% of pretax family income. The rest met criteria for medical bankruptcy because they had lost significant income due to illness or mortgaged a home to pay medical bills. Most medical debtors were well educated, owned homes, and had middle-class occupations. Three quarters had health insurance. Using identical definitions in 2001 and 2007, the share of bankruptcies attributable to medical problems rose by 49.6%. In logistic regression analysis controlling for demographic factors, the odds that a bankruptcy had a medical cause was 2.38-fold higher in 2007 than in 2001.

Conclusions
Illness and medical bills contribute to a large and increasing share of US bankruptcies.

U.S. Medical Prices Highest In the World

…U.S. devotes almost 18% of its gross domestic product to health care spending, while other wealthy nations spend no more than 10% or 11%:

So what’s the ‘Free Market’ solution?

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