Millions of Americans facing ‘catastrophic’ health costs

In spite of health insurance coverage gains achieved under the Affordable Care Act, a new study found that many Americans are still struggling with “catastrophic” health care costs—costs that amount to more than 40% of a person’s income after they pay for food and housing.

The study found that roughly 11 million Americans experienced catastrophic medical expenses in 2017—the last year that the study covered—with privately insured people representing more than half of that group. According to a November 12, 2020 NPR article, high premiums and high out-of-pocket costs could be driving the unmanageable bills.

The study also found that people who have Medicaid had relatively low rates of catastrophic expenditures. Ellen Meara, professor of health economics and policy at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who was not involved with the study, said that expanding Medicaid in the 12 states that have not yet done so could provide better protection from medical expenses in certain groups of people.

“In the states that didn’t expand Medicaid, there’s good evidence that people fall through the cracks in that sense,” she said. “The goal of insurance is to protect us against catastrophic costs, and if more than half of the people facing catastrophic costs are privately insured, I think we’re still failing that.”

Read the NPR article: Despite ACA Coverage Gains, Millions Still Suffer ‘Catastrophic’ Health Care Costs