Over 60 million still face medical-related financial difficulties

The Rise in Health Care Coverage and Affordability Since Health Reform Took Effect

By Sara R. Collins, Petra W. Rasmussen, Michelle M. Doty, and Sophie Beutel
The Commonwealth Fund, January 15, 2015


New results from the Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey, 2014, indicate that the Affordable Care Act’s subsidized insurance options and consumer protections reduced the number of uninsured working-age adults from an estimated 37 million people, or 20 percent of the population, in 2010 to 29 million, or 16 percent, by the second half of 2014. Conducted from July to December 2014, for the first time since it began in 2001, the survey finds declines in the number of people who report cost-related access problems and medical-related financial difficulties. The number of adults who did not get needed health care because of cost declined from 80 million people, or 43 percent, in 2012 to 66 million, or 36 percent, in 2014. The number of adults who reported problems paying their medical bills declined from an estimated 75 million people in 2012 to 64 million people in 2014.


For the first time since it was launched in 2001, the Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey has found significant declines in the number and share of U.S. adults who lack health insurance. The survey also finds evidence to suggest that the coverage gains are allowing working-age adults to get the health care they need while reducing their level of financial burden because of medical bills and debt.

But, while there were minor improvements reported by insured adults in cost-related access and medical bill problems, rates of these problems remain high, especially among adults with low incomes. Prior Commonwealth Fund survey results have found that the increasing size and prevalence of high deductibles and copayments in private health plans, including employer-based plans, is leading many people with low and moderate incomes to avoid or delay needed health care. Excessive cost-sharing for Americans across all insurance types could jeopardize improvements in access to care and medical bill burdens documented in the survey.

States’ decisions to reject the Medicaid expansion have left large numbers of the poorest Americans in the country without health insurance. Since the survey was fielded in July, one additional state has expanded its program, seven others are in discussions to move to forward, and still others may follow their lead this year.



By Don McCanne, MD

The media reports on the new Commonwealth Fund study are celebrating the reduction in the numbers who remain uninsured and the reductions in the financial consequences of being uninsured, supposedly proving that the Affordable Care Act is working. What is difficult to celebrate is confirmation that there are still 66 million people who did not get needed health care because of cost, and there are 64 million people who still reported problems paying their medical bills.

Rather than celebrating a modest improvement in the statistics we should be be using this report to condemn the gross inadequacies of the Affordable Care Act that leave in place the financial barriers that have negatively impacted over 60 million people, and have the potential to have the same negative impact on tens of millions more should they incur a need to access the health care system.

For those who say, “But this is working,” it is not working for the vast majority for whom our prior system fell cruelly short. Continuing this highly flawed experiment constitutes unethical experimentation when we know that a single payer system with full prepaid financing will remove the financial barriers and hardships that are perpetuated by the Affordable Care Act.

When you have a forest fire, you don’t pull out the candle snuffers; you call in the tankers. Likewise, when our health care financing system is leaving tens of millions broke and without adequate care, you don’t tweak what we have; you mobilize a powerful system that actually would work - an improved and expanded Medicare for all.