80 million victims of sickeningly high medical costs

Nearly half of working-age Americans are avoiding doctors or skipping medications because of the spiraling expense.

By Aimee Picchi Apr 26, 2013 12:39PM

Woman looking at products in a pharmacy © B2M Productions, PhotographerHere's a diagnosis of the country's health care crisis: Costs are simply out of control. 

That's supported by a new study from the Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance survey, which found that an astonishing 80 million Americans -- or 43% of working-age adults -- last year skipped going to the doctor or snubbed medicine because of cost. 

That represents a 27% jump since just a decade ago, when 63 million people said they went without medical care because of cost. Even worse, it's not only the uninsured who are cutting corners on their own health because of high prices, the study said. 

About 28% of people with private health insurance reported avoiding treatment because of the price, an eye-opening statistic about skyrocketing rates. 

"Costs of health care have gone up faster than wages," David Blumenthal, president of The Commonwealth Fund, told CNNMoney.

The study comes on the heels of a scathing article published in the journal Blood, which questioned the astronomical cost of leukemia drugs, with some pharmaceutical companies charging more than $100,000 for a year's dose. Ariad Pharmaceuticals (ARIA), for one, introduced a $138,000 annual treatment, the study said.

"We believe the unsustainable drug prices … may be causing harm to patients," the study said. "Grateful patients may have become the 'financial victims' of the treatment success, having to pay the high price annually to stay alive."

That is, if they have insurance and deep pockets that allow them to cover the costs. 

Regardless of income, one-fifth of Americans ask their doctors to prescribe a lower-cost medication, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a study published earlier this month. As I wrote for MSN moneyNOW, that leads to more emergency room visits and other health crises for people unwilling or unable to pay for treatment.

Because of the high costs, medical debt is becoming a burden to U.S. consumers, the Commonwealth survey found. Last year, 41% of working-age adults had problems paying medical bills. About one in five were contacted by a collection agency over unpaid bills. 

One positive aspect was noted in the report: More young adults are now covered by insurance, likely because of Obamacare, which goes into effect next year. About 41% of working-age adults between 19 to 25 went without insurance last year, down from 48% in 2010, the survey found. 

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.

More on moneyNOW

Apr 26, 2013 2:09PM
I am 74 years old, and I have been avoiding doctors for decades. I have no cholesterol problems blood pressure is normal, but I do cataract that is close to needing removal. I take no medicine other than over the counter allergy tablets. I credit it all to avoiding a doctor except in emergencies. My friends are dealing mostly with problems associated with doctor prescribed medicines. The medicine seems worse than the health problem in the first place. 
Apr 26, 2013 1:21PM
It is far more profitable to treat an illness compared to curing an illness. For this reason I doubt we will EVER find a cure for cancer. We will however create costly long term treatments that require lots of drugs and time in hospitals. Sick people are more profitable than healthy people for Drug companies and private hospitals.
Apr 26, 2013 1:54PM
Now people have health insurance plans where they 400-500$ a month and have an out of pocket deductible of between 3000-4000$. These plans do provide prescription co-pays but a routine visit to the doctor can cost anywhere between 150-300$. Many people are into their healthcare for 6000-8000$ before the insurance actually covers anything. The greed knows no limits or boundaries. I was up until recently able to order medication from Canada but now it has become very difficult. This is not free market capitalism this is corporate-government greed and control at its very worst.
Apr 26, 2013 1:18PM
"Costs of health care have gone up faster than wages,"
Thank you Captain Obvious
Apr 26, 2013 1:37PM
Welfare and medicaid recipients are not skipping healthcare, they are in the ER every weekend seeking more drugs, ask anyone else who works in the ER and they will tell the same thing...  
Apr 26, 2013 2:44PM
Not for the people who get healthcare for free....which is about 47% and we will have another 11million or more when the immigration bill is in place.  I am old school.  If you use something , you MUST pay something, co pay even for the 47%.  There are so many out there taking advantage of the system.....It is really NOT FAIR for the ones who ARE working really hard and struggling.
As a health care provider,(formally known as a doctor), I have raised my fees only inline with inflation over the last 5 years. When you say healthcare you are actually referring to health insurance. A hugely profitable industry that,though you pay your premiums, blocks you from seeing your doctor with deductibles. Deductibles should be outlawed. If you are sick, see your doctor.
Apr 26, 2013 1:39PM
Apr 26, 2013 1:36PM
Just beating a dead horse pointing out the obvious again: Insurance companies are the root cause of outrageous and well concealed healthcare costs. Ask anyone with insurance what the TOTAL bill was for their last procedure or MD visit (not just the co-pay). Who but an insurance company would pay $50 for an aspirin?  
Apr 26, 2013 1:34PM

Politics and Healthcare have a lot in common these days. If you don't believe me pay attention the next time a designer drug add comes on. They promise the moon then give you


1. Diarrhea

2. Diabetes

3. Nausea

4. Blue vision (threw that one in for fun)

5. etc..... etc....... etc


Apr 26, 2013 2:52PM
Doctors, lawyers, collection agencies and unaffordable health care, So who needs death panels?
Apr 26, 2013 2:51PM
Some old news. You thought maybe I was joking a few years ago when I wrote that the retirement health care plan is going to be a bottle of aspirin and a bag of herbal tea? Seriously nobody can afford medicines anymore these days...
Apr 26, 2013 2:54PM

At least someone is benefitting from obamacare...our preventative care used to be covered 100%, now it doesn't cover chest x-rays, all blood panels except for one, ekg's, etc. because the company is following the AMA guidelines.  Next year it gets worse.  In addition, some companies are hiring part-time instead of full-time to get around obamacare.  Some companies will chose to not offer insurance because cheaper to pay the fine.   The average WORKING person is worse off.

Apr 26, 2013 1:47PM
Apr 26, 2013 2:10PM
"One positive aspect was noted in the report: More young adults are now covered by insurance, likely because of Obamacare, which goes into effect next year." 

How does that work?  More people have insurance because of something that goes into effect next year?  Way to push an agenda MSN.
it doesn't help that doctors love to run tests that aren't needed. my mom's doctor is milking the insurance company for her blood tests every 3 months when nothing ever changes enough to warrant them. She could do every 6 months on the tests if not once a year.
Apr 26, 2013 2:01PM
everyone gripes about healthcare costs but they do nothing about it.  it's capitalism-supply and demand.  the health industry has succeeded in programming us that we need to visit and be tested just because they might prevent something.  stay at home for a month without having your temp taken and a script written and I'll bet you'll start seeing prices drop like a rock.  they have developed lavish life styles and will start dropping prices to keep their bills paid.  try it-you might like the independence.
Apr 26, 2013 1:04PM
Good, people should be considering cost when going to see a doctor.  Seeking medical treatment/advice is the same as any other financial transaction, and it's about time we start looking at it like that.  As it stands now, our doctor's offices and ERs are full of people who are there because they have a sore throat, or the sniffles, or a headache, or because they have a minor ache or pain when they get up in the morning.  A good portion of these people are looking for an excuse to get out of work or school, or they are looking for social interaction or attention, or they are hypochondriacs.  These people don't think twice about going to see a doctor for every little thing because it doesn't cost them anything out of pocket when they go.  If these same people had to come up with $30 every time they sought treatment, they probably wouldn't clog up the system.
Apr 26, 2013 2:10PM





Obama sucks

Apr 26, 2013 1:19PM
Poor lifestyle choices and failure to take preventative health measures are also BIG factors in controlling these costs! An individual can drastically reduce the need for care by simply making some prudent changes in the daily habits they have.

Exercise....what's that?! Smoking...chain. Eating....three McDonald's squares a day. 

These are the choices that are killing us as a society. People, don't look to the predatory insurance companies and hospitals to lower their costs. You are just an actuarial dollar figure to them. Think!!
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