Remember the uninsured?

Filed Under: Costs, Patients, Providers

The continued stream of dispiriting news about rising health costs sometimes threatens to overwhelm us.

Uninsured people are able to pay for about 12 percent of their hospitalization bills, according to a report released yesterday by the Department of Health and Human Services. The bills that go unpaid are then passed on to people who are insured, in the form of higher costs, higher insurance premiums and so on. Studies have estimated that the cost of those unpaid bills is up to $73 billion a year.

“One of the most enduring myths in American health care is that people without health insurance can get care with little or no problem. Nothing could be farther from the truth,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, commenting on the report in a news release on the HHS Web site. “The result is families going without care – or facing health care bills they can’t hope to pay. When the uninsured cannot afford the care they receive, that cost must be absorbed by other payers.”

Uninsured people struggling with medical bills quite often declare bankruptcy, with about half of all declared bankruptcies in the United State being caused by medical bills.

“Lacking health insurance poses a greater risk of financial catastrophe than lacking car insurance or homeowner’s insurance,” Andre Chappell, the author, writes. “Although an individual is 50 percent more likely to have a car accident in a year than to be hospitalized, the average bill for a hospitalization is over two and a half times higher than the average loss for a car accident. And, while the bill for a single hospitalization is about the same as the loss from an average house fire, a person is ten times more likely to be hospitalized than to experience a house fire.