NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A growing number of Americans
are devoting a large share of their paychecks to healthcare,
and some are skipping medical care because of it,
researchers reported Tuesday.
In 2003, 48.8 million Americans younger than 65 lived in
a household that spent more than 10 percent of the family
income on healthcare, according to a study by the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services. That figure was up
by 11.7 million from 1996.
Low-income families were among those most likely to
devote a large share of income to healthcare, the study
found. Other groups with higher-than-average financial
burdens included people living in rural areas, adults
between the ages of 55 and 64, and people with chronic
In addition, more than half of Americans with health
insurance that wasn't from a group plan spent at least 10
percent of their family income on healthcare -- a rate
nearly three times that of Americans covered by
employer-sponsored health plans.
Not unexpectedly, people with higher personal costs were
more likely than other Americans to put off medical care for
financial reasons. For people in poor health, this could
have "severe consequences," the study authors report in
Wednesday's issue of the Journal of the American Medical
The findings are based on data from federal health
surveys conducted in 1996 and 2003. Each one questioned a
nationally representative sample of Americans -- 19,022
adults younger than 65 in 1996, and 28,970 in 2003.
Drs. Jessica S. Banthin and Didem M. Bernard of the
health department's Agency for Healthcare Research and
Quality estimate that in 1996, nearly 16 percent of
Americans -- or roughly 37 million people -- spent more than
10 percent of the family income on healthcare. That included
money paid toward insurance premiums as well as direct
By 2003, that percentage had grown to more than 19
percent, or 48.8 million Americans, the researchers found.
Of these, 18.7 million spent more than 20 percent of their
paycheck on healthcare.
Americans in this latter group spent an average of $5,794
on healthcare in 2003, according to Banthin and Bernard,
which was more than twice the average for all Americans
younger than 65. Moreover, 5 percent said they had delayed
or skipped medical care because of money.
The findings also underscore the high healthcare expenses
of Americans who get health insurance on their own rather an
employer, the researchers point out. Other studies, they
note, have found that the non-group health insurance market
is "small, volatile and subject to potential market
People in non-group plans, the researchers add, tend to
have much higher healthcare costs than people with any other
type of insurance, and even those who lack insurance
SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association,
December 13, 2006.
© Reuters 2006.
All Rights Reserved.