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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Americans can expect better out-of-pocket protections

Erin Kelly

Staff Writer

A common misconception about health insurance is that if you are covered, you don't have to worry about skyrocketing health care costs. We pay insurance companies premiums every month so we won't have to shell out tons of money when we get sick, right? In theory that's true, but in practice it doesn't always work out that way.

According to a report by Families USA, nearly one in four Americans were in families that spent more than 10 percent of their pre-tax income on health care related expenses in 2009. And 18.7 million Americans were in families that spent more than 25 percent of their pre-tax income on health care. For middle-class families struggling to make ends meet, that is a significant chunk of change.

Left unchecked, rising premiums and out-of-pocket costs could leave more Americans in a tight bind-and in some cases could lead to bankruptcy.

Another report by Families USA shows that unaffordable cost-sharing leads people to delay treatment even when they're sick. This means that when they get so sick they must seek out treatment, it's inevitably more expensive.

Thanks to health reform, however, Americans can expect some relief. Thanks to health reform, the amount that anyone will have to pay out of pocket for health expenses each year will be capped -giving Americans peace of mind that they will be covered when they need it most. Additionally, lower- and moderate-income people will receive extra assistance with out-of-pocket costs and will have lower out-of-pocket caps.

For too long, many Americans have been blindsided with huge out-of-pocket costs when they thought they would be covered. But thanks to health reform, we'll be covered when we need it, and consumers' pockets will be a whole lot deeper.