BRISTOL, Tenn. – Wendy Matney hesitated to tell her family not to call 911.

“It seemed almost selfish to say, ‘Please don’t call because we can’t afford this,’ ” said the 39-year-old home health aide, who has a form of epilepsy that causes frequent, sometimes violent, seizures.

Matney has been to the hospital enough, though, to know a trip means thousands of dollars in bills under the family’s high-deductible health plan. And she and her husband – struggling with more than $20,000 in medical debt – can afford no more.

Hit with a hospital lawsuit over unpaid bills, the couple are declaring bankruptcy, effectively giving up hope of moving out of their trailer and buying a house.

“I’m losing everything because of this,” Matney said.

The steep rise in health insurance deductibles over the last decade has saddled insured, middle- and working-class Americans with medical bills they can’t afford, a Los Angeles Times examination of job-based insurance shows.

The biggest impact, however, has been on people like Matney who have illnesses such as diabetes, cancer and epilepsy that require regular medications and consistent care.

As drug prices have skyrocketed and deductibles in job-based coverage have more than tripled in the last 12 years, soaring to an annual average of $1,350, these sick Americans now routinely pay thousands of dollars every year to get care they need. That has made being sick in the U.S. dramatically more expensive.

“It’s really a double whammy,” said Dr. Brian Callaghan, a University of Michigan neurologist who has studied the impact on people with neurological illnesses.

The financial strain is pushing millions of seriously ill Americans to ration their care, jeopardizing their health and even their lives.

In 2016, for example, Americans taking multiple sclerosis medications every month paid on average $3,708 a year out of pocket for the drugs. Patients in high-deductible health plans paid even more, with average annual costs of nearly $8,000, according to a study by Callaghan.

Fifteen years earlier, the out-of-pocket costs for those medications were $244 on average, adjusted for inflation.

The average patient with lymphoma, a common blood cancer, pays nearly $3,700 in the 12 months following the diagnosis, according to an analysis of commercial insurance data by Milliman, a national healthcare consulting firm. Patients with acute leukemia pay more than $5,100.

Most patients now diagnosed with cancer don’t understand how severe the financial strain will be, said Dr. Scott Ramsey, director of the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research in Seattle.

Analyzing bankruptcy records and cancer registries in Washington state, Ramsey found that cancer patients were more than 2 1/2 times more likely to declare bankruptcy than people without the disease, even after accounting for differences in age, socioeconomic status and other factors.

“Suddenly, people find they owe hundreds or thousands of dollars,” Ramsey said. “If they are young or working in a low-wage job, they’re not going to be able to pay.”

Several Western European countries, including Britain and France, which have national healthcare systems, limit cost sharing for people with some chronic conditions, making prescription drugs available at no cost to …read more

Source:: Daily times


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Soaring insurance deductibles and high drug prices hit sick Americans with a ‘double whammy’

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