The whole point of health insurance is protection from financial ruin in case of catastrophic, costly health problems. But a recent survey of people facing such problems shows that it often fails in that basic function.
The survey, of some of the country’s most seriously ill people, found that even with health insurance, more than a third of the respondents had spent all or most of their savings while sick. They are often faced with deductibles and co-payments; treatments their insurance won’t cover; and financial challenges — like lost work — that health insurance alone can’t address.
The New York Times, the Commonwealth Fund and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health used the survey to examine the sliver of the American population who use the health care system the most. To be included in the results, a respondent had to have been hospitalized twice in the last two years, and to have seen at least three doctors. In some cases, when patients had died or were too ill to answer questions, relatives who had taken care of them participated in their place.
Their experiences may serve as an early warning system for problems that all of us may face: Because the estimated 40 million people in this population visit doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and pharmacies the most, they are the likeliest to see the weak points in the health care system.