KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Number of Underinsured U.S. Adults Increased by 60% Between 2003 and 2007, Study Finds

The number of underinsured U.S. adults increased by 60% from 2003 to 2007, according to a study published on Tuesday on the Web site of the journal Health Affairs, the New York Times reports (Abelson, New York Times, 6/10).

For the study, Cathy Schoen, president for research and evaluation at the Commonwealth Fund, and colleagues surveyed about 3,500 adults between June 2007 and October 2007. About three-fourths of the adults were between ages 19 and 64. The study defined as underinsured adults who had health insurance all year but had out-of-pocket medical costs equal to at least 10% of their annual incomes or greater than 5% for those with low incomes, as well as those who faced deductibles greater than 5% of income (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/10).

The study found that 25 million U.S. adults -- about one in every five younger than age 65 -- were underinsured in 2007, compared with 16 million in 2003. According to the Times, people generally receive generous health insurance through large companies had adequate coverage, but coverage through small companies or the non-group market is increasingly characterized by high deductibles or limited benefits (New York Times, 6/10).

Forty-five percent of the underinsured adults reported that they had problems with payment of their medical bills, were contacted by collection agencies about bills or changed their lifestyles to pay medical costs, compared with 51% of uninsured adults and 21% of those with adequate health insurance, the study found. About 53% of underinsured adults said that they went without necessary medical care because of cost issues, compared with 68% of uninsured adults and 31% of those with adequate health insurance, according to the study.

Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis said, "Lack of insurance is only one part of the problem as even the insured have serious gaps in coverage." She added that the national health care debate should address the quality of health insurance. Schoen said, "Here in the United States, you can have health insurance all year long and still go into medical debt or face bankruptcy" (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/10).

The study is available online.

American Public Media's "Marketplace" on Tuesday reported on the study. The segment includes comments from Schoen and Henry Aaron, a health care expert at the Brookings Institution (Hobson, "Marketplace," American Public Media, 6/10).

NPR's "Morning Edition" on Tuesday also reported on the study. The segment includes comments from Schoen and a family that is underinsured and having trouble paying for health care (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 6/10).

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