Even uninsured consumers with relatively high incomes and substantial savings would have trouble paying the hospital bills associated with one hospitalization, government researchers say.

The researchers present evidence for that conclusion in a hospital bill impact report distributed by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The researchers prepared the report to demonstrate the value of health insurance.

They looked at the ability of consumers at various income and savings levels to use their own resources to pay typical hospital bills. The researchers appear to have based the care cost estimates on hospitals’ unadjusted retail prices, rather than the adjusted rates a hospital might offer a patient who negotiated for a lower price, but the researchers included only hospital bills, not the cost of physician services, ambulance fees or follow-up care.

Only about 12% of all families to can afford pay to pay for hospital admissions out of pocket, and only 37% of families with incomes over 400% of the federal poverty level can afford to pay in full for the cost of hospitalization, the researchers found.

- Allison Bell

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