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Expand chart
Data: Kaiser Family Foundation; Chart: Axios Visuals

People with major medical illnesses are having serious problems paying for the health care they need — a crisis that is flying under the radar while attention is focused on hot policy issues like the Affordable Care Act and "Medicare for All."

The big picture: A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Los Angeles Times shows that a strikingly large share of people with serious medical conditions are struggling to pay their medical bills, often wreaking havoc with their family budgets and causing them to cut back on care.

By the numbers: Take people with employer coverage who have a chronic condition such as hypertension, asthma, a serious mental health condition, diabetes, heart disease or cancer. It’s not a small group; just over half of those with employer coverage say someone in their family is currently receiving treatment for one of these or another chronic condition.

  • 6 out of 10 people in this group report that they or a family member skipped or postponed medical care or prescription drugs they needed because of costs, or tried a home remedy instead.
  • High deductibles can make things worse: Among those with chronic conditions whose deductibles are at least $3,000 for an individual or $5,000 for a family, three-quarters report skipping or postponing some type of care.
  • About half — 49% — say they or a family member had problems paying medical bills or difficulty affording their premiums, deductibles or co-pays in the last year.

There are ripple effects on family budgets, too. A substantial share of people reported taking measures such as increasing credit card debt (28%), using up most of their savings (26%), taking an extra job (19%), and borrowing money from others (14%) to pay for health care or insurance costs.

And this was over the last year. We ask the question that way because people can more easily remember more recent experiences. It’s not hard to imagine that the share of people with chronic conditions who experience these problems over the course of a longer time period is much higher.

People who do not have serious illnesses also struggle with affordability challenges, but fewer of them do (29%). Their worries that they will get sick and not be able to pay their bills fuels health care as a political issue.

The bottom line: It may not be surprising that people who are sick have more problems; they use more care. But it is the opposite of how a compassionate and functional insurance system should work.

Go deeper

Elon Musk's mega-billion bounty

Photo: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images

Here's how insanely rich Elon Musk is: He has unloaded $10 billion of his stock in the past month — and could do that 15+ more times given his silos of shares.

Ina Fried, author of Login
2 hours ago - Technology
Column / Signal Boost

Huawei sanctions snarled chip supply chains

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The largely successful U.S. effort to hobble China's Huawei has benefitted a host of other tech companies — from smartphone makers such as Apple and Xiaomi to chipmakers like Qualcomm to network vendors including Nokia and Ericsson.

Yes, but: The massive disruption to the industry furthered an industry wide mismatch between supply and demand, exacerbating the global chip shortage.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
2 hours ago - Health

Overturning Roe could strain abortion access even in blue states

The Supreme Court is reflected in a woman's sunglasses during a march Oct. 2. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, abortions could be harder to access even in states where they remain legal, because those clinics could be flooded with patients from states that have cracked down.

The big picture: This has happened before, and clinics fear the crush of demand would be a major problem in the immediate wake of a decision that would allow states to ban abortion.