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Dr. Jim Spears examines a patient without health coverage at the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic on March 23, 2011.
Nearly half of the working-age population was underinsured or uninsured in 2010, and rising health costs have almost eclipsed income gains made by the typical American family in the last decade, according to recent studies by the Commonwealth Fund and the RAND Corporation. The bleak findings revealed disturbing trends in the American health market: total spending on health insurance doubled between 1999 and 2009; families who have insurance are incurring unaffordable costs though the loopholes or limits in their plans; workers are losing coverage as they lose their jobs; and medical costs are eating up more and more of the average family’s income. As the economy veers toward another recession, health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses are likely to increase, again, leaving many millions of Americans unable to pay for their medicines or emergency coverage. Where next will beleaguered citizens turn? Both the Commonwealth Fund and RAND suggest that President Obama’s healthcare law may provide some relief to those who qualify for subsidized insurance next year—reducing the current number of uninsured adults by as much as 70%. Will millions of people jump onto the “Obamacare” bandwagon in 2014? Or will other federal measures help families weather the next fiscal storm? And could the fear incurred by rising health care lend the President’s controversial package some credibility before the election?
Jamie Court, President, Consumer Watchdog
Kavita K. Patel, adjunct assistant clinical professor at UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine