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Health Plan Members Report More Access Woes

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NU Online News Service, March 29, 2004, 2:12 p.m. EST – Consumers who have health coverage say they are having a harder time getting and paying for health care.[@@]

Researchers with The Commonwealth Fund, New York, have published data supporting that conclusion in a report on their 2003-2004 health insurance survey.

A survey firm interviewed 4,052 U.S. residents age 19 and over between September 2003 and January 2004 for The Commonwealth Fund. Researchers at The Commonwealth Fund, a health policy think tank, then compared the results with results from a similar survey conducted in 2001.

One set of questions dealt with access. Researchers asked participants whether they had failed to fill a prescription, avoided seeking care for a medical problem, skipped doctor-recommended tests or treatments, or skipped doctor-recommended visits to specialists because of concerns about cost.

The researchers found that 61% of the uninsured survey participants had problems with access to care, up from 55% in 2001, but the increase in access problems was more dramatic for insured participants.

The researchers found that 29% of the survey participants who had health coverage for all of the past 12 months reported having problems with access to care, up from 21%. The actual number of fully insured participants with access problems was up 38%.

Similarly, the researchers found that 62% of the uninsured participants with annual 2002 household incomes under $35,000 have had trouble paying medical bills or are paying medical debt off over time. But 29% of the insured participants with incomes over $35,000 also are struggling to pay down medical debt or are having trouble paying medical bills.