A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Almost three quarters of Kentuckians report healthcare affordability problems in new survey

Mirroring national trends, 72% of Kentucky adults report one or more healthcare affordability problems according to data briefs released today based on the Consumer Healthcare Experience State Survey (CHESS). Reported problems range from not being able to afford health insurance and delaying or foregoing healthcare (55%) to struggling to pay their medical bills (57%). One-quarter of all adults in Kentucky report being contacted by a collection agency about their medical bills.

The Eastern region of Kentucky reports the highest rates of affordability burdens, with 80% having one or more problems and one-third being contacted by a collection agency.

Healthcare Value Hub director Lynn Quincy emphasized the importance of state-level data to better understand the national trends being reported. “While high levels of healthcare affordability burdens are being reported in national polls, this poll provides critical insights as to how often Kentuckians experience the full range of affordability problems and how burden level varies within the commonwealth.”

Of the various types of medical bills, the ones most frequently associated with an affordability barrier were dental care, doctor bills and prescription drugs, likely reflecting the frequency with which Kentucky adults seek these services—or, in the case of dental, lower rates of coverage for these services.

“Access to affordable, quality healthcare is vitally important to improving the health of Kentucky residents,” said Emily Beauregard. “Preventative care and screenings are key to maintaining good health, and too many Kentuckians find themselves unable to meet the exorbitant costs of health insurance, forcing them to go without needed care.” She added, “The good news is that surveyed Kentuckians overwhelmingly support a number of bipartisan policy solutions that would provide relief.”

The high burden of healthcare affordability along with high levels of support for change suggest that elected leaders and other stakeholders need to make addressing this need a top priority. According to a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, anxiety about healthcare and prescription drug costs will likely influence voters’ actions in the upcoming midterm elections.

Kristi Roberts works for a small business in Lexington, and rising costs have taken a toll on the business’s ability to provide health insurance for employees. “We have provided health insurance to our employees since 1978. Unless something drastic happens between now and July 1, we won’t be able to renew our group policy and still keep the doors open,” said Carpenter. “A 23 percent increase in one year’s time is simply devastating.”

Debbie McAfee worked as a tax manager and later in tax technology before she had to go on disability due to a Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. The cost of treatment for her condition skyrocketed over the last few years. “The cost of the treatment jumped from $8,000, per year to over $90,000, per year, between 1993 and 2017. The price increased with no major modifications to the drug. It’s impossible for people with MS to afford MS medications now,” said McAfee. She works with the MS Society to advocate for access to affordable care and price transparency, both legislative priorities the CHESS identified as important to Kentuckians.

Jane Harrod, a Lexington farmer who has always worked side jobs to make ends meet and keep her family farm running, could never afford health insurance. She was active and healthy until she suffered an accident that required emergency surgery. “I found a surgeon who offered a discount so I could pay out of pocket,” said Harrod. “Since I couldn’t work as much, I qualified for Medicaid and received the care I needed to avoid permanent disability. I’ll be able to go back to working more, but then I’ll be without health insurance again.”

Megan Naseman of Berea Kentucky has health insurance through her employer but still couldn’t receive the care she needed last winter when she became ill and went into septic shock. “I was in the ICU for a few days and hospitalized for a week,” said Naseman. “Soon after I was released, I had some concerning symptoms at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night. I called the nurse line on the back of my health insurance card to ask if I should seek immediate care or not, since I knew I was at risk for a recurrence of sepsis. Anthem had made a statement reminding members that they can deny emergency room visit claims if they determine the visit wasn’t an actual emergency, so I wanted to make sure I would be covered. The nurse said he couldn’t promise anything since the determination is up to Anthem’s billing department, and it sounded like I would be okay so long as I didn’t get a fever. So instead of seeking emergency care while I was recovering from sepsis, I stayed up all night to monitor my temperature until I could be seen at a regular clinic. After paying $4500 in medical expenses since January, I just couldn’t risk another big bill.”

The complete data briefs are available at www.healthcarevaluehub.org.

From Kentucky Voices for Health

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