A few paces from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile where holiday shoppers were at the ready with their credit cards, consumer advocates were recounting how another kind of debt runs up.
The stories being told at the consumer liaison session of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ winter meeting last month were not ones of “comfort and joy”–but of people cobbling together enough just to keep health care coverage.
The stories are heart wrenching and embody our worst fears: cancer patients who have to interrupt chemo and radiation treatment because they couldn’t make ends meet; marginally insured citizens who are on a health care gangplank hoping they can make the leap to state health pools; and those who don’t make the leap and go without.
Cynics listening to these stories could argue that they are the extremes, the hard-luck cases that punctuate the majority who have some form of health care coverage. Perhaps they are right.
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But then again, perhaps they’re not. Consumers are concerned about paying their health care bills. A December 2005 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, for instance, found that 23% of respondents had trouble paying medical bills within the past year. Of these, 61% had health insurance.
At the Health Insurance and Managed Care “B” Committee, Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, outlined a blueprint to address “health care challenges.”
Ignagni urged state policymakers to allow for greater flexibility in product designs and to harmonize regulations to create greater competition.
The issue of health care was raised at the commissioners’ roundtable session at the winter meeting and no doubt will continue to come up in 2006.