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Millions in U.S. Can't Afford Health Insurance

Obstacles mount when employer-based coverage is not an option, survey finds,,

TUESDAY, July 21 (HealthDay News) -- Most people in the United States who try to buy an individual health insurance policy on their own never end up getting coverage, often because the premiums are just too expensive, according to a new study.

A report by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that supports independent research on health policy reform, found that roughly three of every four people who tried to buy a policy from the individual health insurance market in the past three years didn't get one. The main reason cited was premium cost. About 57 percent said it was very hard or even impossible to find coverage they could afford.

About 47 percent of the people surveyed said it was difficult or impossible to find a plan with the coverage they needed, and 36 percent reported being charged more or denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition or had the condition excluded from their coverage.

Called "Failure to Protect: Why the Individual Insurance Market Is Not a Viable Option for Most U.S. Families," the report compared the experiences of working-age adults with individual- and employer-based private health insurance.

It also found that people who bought health insurance in the individual market spend a lot more on premiums and deductibles than those with employer-based coverage.

The survey found that among U.S. adults with individual insurance, 64 percent spend $3,000 or more annually on premiums, whereas just 20 percent of those with employer-based insurance spend that much. Out-of-pocket expenses, including premiums, averaged $6,750 for people with individual market insurance, compared with $2,250 for those with employer-based plans.

"In our current system, millions of people without access to employer coverage have no affordable option for health insurance," said Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund. "To achieve a health-care system that works for all Americans, we need health-care reform that offers comprehensive, affordable health insurance to everyone regardless of their health status, premium subsidies to help families with low and moderate incomes afford health insurance, and requirements to ensure that no one is denied health insurance because of a health problem."

More information

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality offers a consumer guide to health insurance.

--Dennis Thompson

SOURCE: The Commonwealth Fund, news release, July 21, 2009

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