In talking to agents and counselors who use SpringFour every day to help people on their path to financial wellness, one issue faced by consumers keeps coming up. Healthcare. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported earlier this year that medical debt was the most common reason for someone to be contacted by a debt collector. And this crisis is not just affecting pocket books. Uninsured Americans are more than twice as likely as their insured counterparts to report a medical need that went unmet because of cost.
In 2014 SpringFour added a health insurance category to correspond with the introduction of the Affordable Care Act in the hopes that more Americans would be able to acquire coverage. Our subscribers have used this category to make over 67,00 referrals to health insurance programs and advisors. The good news is that the uninsured rate has fallen. According to the CDC, only 28 million people were uninsured last year, compared to just over 48 million in 2010.
Unfortunately a new wave of problems are fueling the American health crisis. A rise in underinsured people, gaps in coverage, rising premiums, and poor access to preventative care are all posing new obstacles.
SpringFour is again looking to offer a solution for consumers who face the impossible task of choosing between paying their mortgage and seeing a doctor. The SpringFour data team has been hard at work finding available programs that provide access to basic services to prevent crisis and help those facing mounting medical bills. This week we are deploying a new category, HealthCare Savings, with local resources to help those struggling with healthcare costs.
The Underinsured. Just because a person is insured, doesn’t mean they can actually afford their medical bills, prescriptions, doctor visits, or hospital bills. Out-of-pocket spending for people even with employer-provided health insurance has increased by more than 50 percent since 2010. This problem is called “Under Insurance” and it’s increasingly impacting a wide range of Americans. Researchers estimate that approximately one fifth of Americans with health insurance are underinsured and face limits on coverage or substantial financial costs if faced with illness, according to the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. In another survey commissioned by Insurance.com, researchers found that 64% of insured people have delayed seeking care because of a high deductible.
Rising Premiums. Because of the repeal of the insurance mandate, The CBO found that health insurance premiums would rise by about 10 percent in most years over the next decade in the individual market created by the Affordable Care Act. This will affect people who don’t have access to employer coverage but make too much money to qualify for safety net programs like Medicaid, or Americans who are self-employed.
The Coverage Gap. In nearly all states not expanding medicaid, childless adults remain ineligible. As a result, in states that do not expand Medicaid, many adults fall into a “coverage gap” of having incomes above Medicaid eligibility limits but below the lower limit for Marketplace premium tax credits. More than a quarter of people in the coverage gap reside in Texas, which has both a large uninsured population and very limited Medicaid eligibility. 16% live in Florida, 10% in Georgia, and 9% in North Carolina.
High Cost of Prevention. Hospital care is very expensive, making up one-third of all health care costs in America. One reason is that many people use the emergency room as their primary care physician. According to the CDC, Nearly half of visits to the emergency room (46.3 percent) were due to the fact that the patient really had no other place to go for health care. Preventive care helps lower health care costs by preventing diseases before an emergency room visit is required.
Many general wellness services such as disease management, dental care, and vision care are not covered by insurance. Medicare, for example, doesn’t cover routine dental care, forcing many seniors to later seek expensive treatment for infections and gum disease. Eye- and vision-care costs are much greater when problems are allowed to progress to an advanced stage. In fact the annual economic costs of vision disorders is estimated at $51.4 billion a year, according to a report from Prevent Blindness America. Many chronic diseases such as diabetes are preventable with proper preventative care.
To address these issues, the SpringFour data team has identified hundreds of programs in cities nationwide that provide services and financial assistance for people who find themselves unable to afford medical care. Below are some examples of the kinds of resources we’ve included in our new HealthCare Savings Category.
Clinics. Community Health Centers (CHCs) are nonprofit, tax exempt community-based and community-governed providers of primary and preventive health care. These centers are not new, however because their funding was expanded under ObamaCare, more services are now available. Many people don’t realize they have a Community Health Center right in their backyard, where they can access services for free or at a very low cost. Some clinics specialize in disease management or primary care, others in dental or optical care.
Grants. For patients facing a serious ongoing illness Copay funds are available to help. Turning to charity is not a first choice for most hard working Americans, but for some facing high medical bills from an expensive ongoing illness, it is the only choice. These funds available from nonprofits and foundations are robust programs that fly under the radar. Hospitals often do not refer to these programs so few patients know about their existence.
Schools. Dentistry schools are a great resource for low-cost services including regular cleanings, fillings, and periodontal treatment. Optometry schools also often offer services to the community including eye care and glasses.
A helping hand. Medical bills are not the only hurdle for people facing ongoing health issues or a crisis. Transportation, lodging, and meals can also present an insurmountable obstacle for those that have to travel great distances for care. Nonprofits and foundations that help patients and their families with basic needs while they undergo care can make all the difference.
In addition to these local resources, the new HealthCare Savings category will list the government and nonprofits sites that can help people locate low cost services on a regional or statewide level. So no matter where your client is located, whether they have insurance or not, whether they are facing a one-time crisis or long-term illness, SpringFour has resources that can help.
Because our mission is to insure that people have the best possible resources to achieve financial wellness, adding additional health care resources has become a top priority.
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Cassandra Compton, VP of Data Integrity and User Experience