Sunday, April 4, 2004

Top medical worry: paying the bills


Cost frustration

As costs rise, Greater Cincinnatians are finding plenty of blame to go around.

Some criticize the many drug ads on TV. Others question record profits of insurance companies, high executive salaries and non-profit hospitals that spend millions to compete with each other. Some blame society, saying too many people don't take care of themselves, and too many people are too quick to sue.

"Look at all the drug ads on TV ... Celebrex ... Vioxx ... Nexium ... It just goes on and on. Most of the ads don't even say what they (the drugs) do," says Jim Longhauser, 50, of Amelia. "They never advertised this much before. If they didn't spend all that money, maybe they wouldn't have to charge so much."

George Fortner, 74, of Price Hill blames the lawyers.

"Health care is in a crisis in this country. And it's all due primarily to malpractice insurance costs," Fortner says. "People don't understand. All those millions that the lawyers get, you end up paying for that in your medical bills."

The Enquirer's survey indicates that large portions of the general public share cost concerns that many employers and policy reformers have been talking about for years.

"Employers have been dealing with this for a long time. This is why so many employers are asking employees to pay a larger share," says Sharron DiMario, executive director for the Employer Health Care Alliance.

For large employers, the total cost of providing health benefits has climbed more than 62 percent since 1988 to $6,215 per employee per year, according to the Mercer National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans.

As employers' costs rise, workers are paying much more, too.

In 1988, the average worker in a big company paid $52 a month for his or her share of family coverage. By 2002, that amount had more than tripled to $174 a month, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Bigger paycheck deductions often pay for weaker coverage. Plans that covered 100 percent of hospital bills and charged $10 for doctor visits are being replaced with plans that expect workers to pay deductibles of $500, $1,000, even $2,500 and then cover only 80 percent of the bill.

Frustrations over the costs of health care extend well beyond Cincinnati, says Alwyn Cassil, spokeswoman for the Center for Studying Health System Change.

"We spend a lot on medical care in this country and in many cases have worse outcomes than other industrialized nations that spend a lot less," Cassil says.

Part 3: Going bare - Norwood resident Mike Mayfield, 35, is among the 10 percent of survey respondents who say they lived part of the past year without any health insurance.

  YOUR HEALTH/
YOUR MONEY

Paying the bills
The rising costs of health care have spiraled into a crisis.
Full survey results
Return to special report front

Healthy lives, lower premiums
Most favor penalties for smokers, fat people and those who don't take care of themselves.
Employers offer incentives
Editorial: Don't blame others

A common fear
These families share a worry about the cost of health care.
Small business owner
Young professional
Living with chronic illness
Union worker
Concerned senior
Retired executive
More stories

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