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Americans Rank Health Care Near the Top of Their Economic Woes, New Poll Finds
Date:4/28/2008

Almost Four In 10 Report Serious Financial Burden Caused By Medical Bills; 7 Percent Say Someone In Their Household Got Married So They or Their Spouse Could Get Health Benefits

MENLO PARK, Calif., April 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Health care costs rank among Americans' top personal economic problems, and their struggles to deal with those costs have affected both their financial well-being and their family's health care, a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds.

Conducted by the Foundation's public opinion researchers, the April poll probes into the economic concerns facing Americans and the ways they have dealt with the cost of health care.

Across a series of economic concerns, health care costs rank near the top. Nearly three in 10 Americans (28 percent) report that they or their families have had a serious problem paying for health care and health insurance as a result of recent changes in the economy, behind paying for gas (44 percent) and about tied with getting a good-paying job or raise in pay (29 percent). Smaller shares report serious problems paying their rent or mortgage (19 percent), dealing with credit card or other personal debt (18 percent), paying for food (18 percent) or losing money in the stock market (16 percent).

Reports of families facing serious economic problems extend up into middle-income families, with almost three in 10 (28 percent) of those earning between $30,000 and $75,000, reporting a serious problem paying for health care or health insurance as a result of recent changes in the economy.

Health care costs are also having ripple effects on family budgets. In a separate series of questions asking about the personal economic consequences of medical bills, nearly four in 10 (37 percent) report at least one of six financial troubles over the past five years as a result of medical bills: having difficulties paying other bills (20 percent); being contacted by a collections agency (20 percent); using up all or most of their savings (17 percent); being unable to pay for basic necessities such as food, heat or housing (12 percent); borrowing money (10 percent); or declaring bankruptcy (3 percent).

"Many people view health and the economy as separate issues, but the cost of health care is a significant pocketbook issue for many families and paying for health care has become a key dimension of the public's economic concerns," Kaiser President and CEO Drew E. Altman said.

The poll also finds that health benefits play a key role in people's decisions to switch jobs or stay in their current job. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) say that, within the past year, they or a member of their household have either taken a new job or stuck with their current job (instead of taking a new one) primarily because of better health benefits.

Perhaps surprisingly, health coverage is also a factor in some people's decisions to get married. Among all adults, 7 percent say that, in the past year, they or someone in their household decided to get married in order to have access to their spouse's health care benefits, or so their spouse could have access to their benefits.

The high cost of health care also caused a significant number of Americans to delay or go without medical care. When asked about the impact of costs on their families' health care, more than four in 10 (42 percent) say that, within the past year, they or a family member living in their household have experienced at least one of five specific consequences due to cost: put off or postponed getting needed care (29 percent); skipped a recommended medical test or treatment (24 percent); not filled a prescription (23 percent); cut pills in half or skipped doses of medicine (19 percent); or had problems getting mental health care (8 percent).

People generally are more likely to report taking these actions now than in the past - for instance, 24 percent now report skipping a recommended medical test or treatment in the past year because of the cost, up from 17 percent in 2005.

Kaiser also released the results of its April Kaiser Health Tracking Poll: Election 2008, the seventh in a series tracking voters' views about where health care fits as an issue in the 2008 presidential election, as well as their views on potential approaches to health reform. The latest survey finds voters are most likely to name the economy as one of the two most important issues for the candidates to discuss, followed by Iraq and health care. The three issues rank in the same order among Democrats, Republicans and independents. Early polls in the series have also looked at the ways health care costs contribute to voters' concern about the economy.

The polls were designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation. A nationally representative random sample of 2,003 adults was interviewed by telephone between April 3 and 13, 2008. The margin of sampling error for the survey is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For results based on subgroups, the sampling error is higher.

Full results are available at http://www.kff.org/kaiserpolls/h08_pomr042908pkg.cfm.

The Kaiser Family Foundation is a non-profit, private operating foundation dedicated to providing information and analysis on health care issues to policymakers, the media, the health care community and the general public. The Foundation is not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries.


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SOURCE Henry J. Kaiser Foundation
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