Americans rely on health coverage from work. It’s not getting the job done.

commonwealth-underinsured-300x216Republicans got their heads handed to them in the midterms because they bungled a decade of efforts to eliminate public options on health insurance, the House minority leader has conceded. But he and other lawmakers, as well as corporate bosses, may face greater political fallout for failing to deal with a bigger health coverage nightmare for  Americans: workplace insurance plans.

More than half of Americans 65 or younger — 150 million-plus — get employer health insurance, while just a quarter of us buy plans on individual markets or get covered by Medicaid, reported the nonpartisan, respected Commonwealth Fund.

Republicans, in control of the House and Senate and now the White House, have ripped at the Affordable Care Act since its passage — although Obamacare has expanded and improved options for those uncovered on the job, including protections for preexisting conditions. Lawmakers in the meantime largely have left alone employer plans.

But workplace health insurance is where the “greatest deterioration in the quality and comprehensiveness of coverage has occurred,” fund researchers have found. This has led to a spike in “under insured” Americans — those with high health plan deductibles and out-of-pocket medical expenses relative to their income. They are more likely to struggle with medical bills or to skip care because of costs. The researchers reported further that:

More U.S. adults are under insured compared to 2014, with the largest growth among people with job-based health plans. Twenty-eight percent of U.S. adults who have health insurance through their employer were under insured in 2018, up from 20 percent just four years earlier. At the same time, people who bought plans on their own through the individual market or the marketplaces were the most likely to be under insured, with 42 percent reporting a lack of adequate coverage in 2018. Under insured adults report having trouble affording their care … 41 percent of under insured adults said they delayed needed care because of cost, compared to 23 percent of people with adequate insurance coverage … 47% of under insured adults report medical bill and debt problems — nearly twice the rate as those who are not under insured.

This is not good news, and it was further underscored by separate research published in the American Journal of Public Health, which, according to its news release, reported that:

Medical problems contributed to 66.5 percent of all bankruptcies, a figure that is virtually unchanged since before the passage of the [ACA]. The findings indicate that 530,000 families suffer bankruptcies each year that are linked to illness or medical bills. The study, carried out by a team of two doctors, two lawyers, and a sociologist from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project (CBP), surveyed a random sample of 910 Americans who filed for personal bankruptcy between 2013 and 2016, and abstracted the court records of their bankruptcy filings. The study, which is one component of the CBP’s ongoing bankruptcy research, provides the only national data on medical contributors to bankruptcy since the 2010 passage of the ACA. Bankruptcy debtors reported that medical bills contributed to 58.5 percent of bankruptcies, while illness-related income loss contributed to 44.3 percent; many debtors cited both of these medical issues.

In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also their struggles to access and afford safe, effective, and excellent medical care, especially as costs skyrocket for treatments and prescription drugs. It’s unacceptable in the world’s wealthiest nation, where we spend more than $3 trillion on health costs, that so many Americans get slammed by exorbitant medical bills and medical debt. We can’t allow our loved ones, friends, and colleagues to be  so staggered by costs that they forego needed care.

U.S. companies — and good for them — are reporting steadily increasing and even record profits. Their executives, who get richer by the instant, claim they owe their allegiance first and foremost to shareholders, mostly the wealthy few. They can’t, however, keep making money by breaking the backs of their employees, including now with Big Brother, tech-based programs that purport to assist staff wellness while really serving mostly to advance companies’ profit-making by snooping on their people.

Will someone in power also wake up and scrutinize the profiteering by insurers? As the online news site Axios reported: The five top conglomerates, handling both health insurance and pharmacy benefits, are on track this year to be bigger than tech’s behemoths. “Anthem, Cigna, CVS Health, Humana and UnitedHealth Group cumulatively expect to collect almost $787 billion in 2019, compared with $783 billion of projected revenue for Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google,” the news site said, adding that the tech companies in total also were “five times more profitable than their health care counterparts in 2018 and are projected to be 3.5 times more profitable this year.”

Meantime, political partisans who put the interests of the plutocratic few and the wealthiest corporations should be ashamed of themselves and their trillion-dollar tax cut. Take notice, please, whether any GOP lawmakers suggested that even the tiniest bit of that give-away might have benefited struggling workers and eased their torments in dealing with crushing medical costs and bankruptcies?

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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