Sunday, May 4

RECESSION PUNCHES HOLES IN CATANIA'S HEALTH PLAN

NY TIMES - The economic slowdown has swelled the ranks of people without health insurance. But now it is also threatening millions of people who have insurance but find that the coverage is too limited or that they cannot afford their own share of medical costs. . .

Many of the 158 million people covered by employer health insurance are struggling to meet medical expenses that are much higher than they used to be - often because of some combination of higher premiums, less extensive coverage, and bigger out-of-pocket deductibles and co-payments.

With medical costs soaring, the coverage many people have may not adequately protect them from the financial shock of an emergency room visit or a major surgery. For some, even routine doctor visits might now take a back seat to basic expenses like food and gasoline. . .

Already, many doctors say, the soft economy is making some insured people hesitant to get care they need, reluctant to spend a $50 co-payment for an office visit. Parents "are waiting longer to bring in their children," said Dr. Richard Lander, a pediatrician in Livingston, N.J. "They say, 'The kid isn't that sick; her temperature is only 102.'". . .

Since the recession of 2001, the employee's average cost of an annual health care premium for family coverage has nearly doubled - to $3,300, up from $1,800 - while incomes have come nowhere close to keeping up. Factor in other out-of-pocket medical costs, and the portion of the average American household's income that goes toward health care has risen about 12 percent, according to the consulting and accounting firm Deloitte, and is now approaching one-fifth of the average household's spending.

In a recent survey by Deloitte's health research center, only 7 percent of people said they felt financially prepared for their future health care needs. . .

More companies may see themselves as having little choice but to require employees to pay even more of their health expenses, said Ted Nussbaum, a benefits consultant at the firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide. And when a weak economy undermines job security, he said, workers may simply have to accept reduced benefits. . .

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