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Illness is unaffordable, even with insurance

A serious illness will often wipe out your life savings even if you have health insurance. That's the sobering conclusion from a new national survey of people who have had to rely on the health care system intensively.

The big picture: "You’re kind of at a disadvantage as a consumer going against these big complicated systems that don’t always have your best interest at heart," University of Michigan professor Sarah Miller told the New York Times, which helped analyze the survey. "And I think that’s why there’s so much financial burden, even among people with private insurance."

By the numbers, via the NYT:

  • 36% of seriously ill patients with insurance said they had used up all or most of their savings to pay for their care; 29% had a bill referred to a collection agency; and 21% said they had been unable to pay for basic necessities.
  • Among seriously ill patients without insurance, 57% said they had spent through their savings, and 51% reported being unable to afford things like food and housing.

Making matters worse, 53% said their illness had kept them from working, at least temporarily. That may not be a direct health care cost — it's not money that goes into the health care system — but it's a big part of the toll that the system takes on the people who need it.

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