Obamacare’s Dirty Secret: 31 Million Still Can’t Afford Treatment

Obamacare’s Dirty Secret: 31 Million Still Can’t Afford Treatment

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By Brianna Ehley, The Fiscal Times

The president’s healthcare law sliced America’s uninsured rate down to historic lows by expanding coverage for tens of millions of Americans. At the same time, however, the number of insured people who still lack affordable, robust coverage is rising sharply as more people buy into high-deductible policies.

A new study from the Commonwealth Fund reveals that about 23 percent of Americans with coverage are considered underinsured—up from 12 percent in 2003. That means roughly 31 million Americans who bought health insurance still have trouble affording treatment under their policies.

The researchers at the Commonwealth Fund defined “underinsured” people as having out-of-pocket costs that total 10 percent or more of their annual income, or a deductible that is 5 percent or more of their income. The study concluded that high-deductible policies are likely the culprit behind this massive influx of underinsured people.

The findings are a huge problem for the Obama administration since the entire goal was to expand access to coverage to millions of Americans that they presumably would use instead of delaying treatment. But a handful of recent studies show that even people with health insurance are delaying treatment because they can’t afford it.

Related: High Deductible Plans Have More People Delaying Treatment

A December Gallup Poll showed at least 38 percent of insured, middle-income people, said they had delayed medical treatment because of the cost. “While many Americans have gained insurance, there has been no downturn in the percentage who say they have had to put off needed medical treatment because of cost,” Gallup’s Rebecca Riffkin wrote in a post on the pollster’s website.

The shift toward cost-sharing and high-deductible policies—defined by the Internal Revenue Service as those with annual deductibles of $1,300 or more for individuals and $2,600 for families--is widespread among exchange policies but also employer plans.

The Commonwealth Foundation’s study, unsurprisingly, reveals that low-income people with coverage are about twice as likely to be “underinsured” than people earning more than 200 percent of the poverty line.

Of course, it’s important to note that while affordability continues to be an issue, significantly more people do have health insurance because of the law. 

The Trump Budget's $1.2 Trillion in 'Phantom Revenues'

Trump budget arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington
KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters
By The Fiscal Times Staff

President Trump’s 2020 budget includes up to $1.2 trillion in “potentially phantom revenues” — money that comes from taxes the administration opposes or from tax hikes that face strong opposition from businesses, The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin reports, citing data from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. That total, covering 2020 through 2029, includes as much as $390 billion in taxes created under the Affordable Care Act, which the president wants to repeal.

The $1.2 trillion in questionable revenue projections is in addition to the White House budget’s projected deficits of $7.3 trillion for the 10-year period. That total is itself questionable, given that the president’s budget relies on optimistic assumptions about economic growth and some unrealistic spending cuts, meaning that the deficits could be significantly higher than projected.

Chart of the Day: Trump's Huge Proposed Cuts to Public Investment

Trump budget arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington
KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Ben Ritz of the Progressive Policy Institute slams President Trump’s new budget:

“It would dismantle public investments that lay the foundation for economic growth, resulting in less innovation. It would shred the social safety net, resulting in more poverty. It would rip away access to affordable health care, resulting in more disease. It would cut taxes for the rich, resulting in more income inequality. It would bloat the defense budget, resulting in more wasteful spending. And all this would add up to a higher national debt than the policies in President Obama’s final budget proposal.”

Here’s Ritz’s breakdown of Trump’s proposed spending cuts to public investment in areas such as infrastructure, education and scientific research:

Chart of the Day: The Decline in Corporate Taxes

By The Fiscal Times Staff

Since roughly the end of World War Two, individual income taxes in the U.S. have equaled about 8 percent of GDP. By contrast, the Tax Policy Center says, “corporate income tax revenues declined from 6% of GDP in 1950s to under 2% in the 1980s through the Great Recession, and have averaged 1.4% of GDP since then.”

Tax Refunds Rebound

Flickr / Chris Potter
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Smaller refunds in the first few weeks of the current tax season were shaping up to be a political problem for Republicans, but new data from the IRS shows that the value of refund checks has snapped back and is now running 1.3 percent higher than last year. The average refund through February 23 last year was $3,103, while the average refund through February 22 of 2019 was $3,143 – a difference of $40. The chart below from J.P. Morgan shows how refunds performed over the last 3 years.