Is Obamacare Curing Your Health Care Worries?

Wall St. Cheat Sheet

Is your financial situation leaving you feeling sick to your stomach? You’re not alone. Despite the Affordable Care Act and the recently launched health care exchanges, an alarming amount of Americans are worried about medical expenses.

Medical debt is weighing on the wallets and minds of consumers. According to a new report from Bankrate.com, 25 percent of Americans currently have more medical debt than emergency savings. That figure nearly doubles to 44 percent among people earning less than $30,000 per year. Furthermore, 34 percent of parents with children under 18 say they have more medical debt than emergency savings, compared to 22 percent of respondents without kids.

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Even people who do not currently have medical debt are plagued by the thought of it. The report finds that 55 percent of respondents were either very or somewhat worried they will become overwhelmed by medical debt at some point in the future. “These results show that more than half the population feels financially insecure when it comes to healthcare. This is an issue that affects consumer confidence and the broader economy,” said Doug Whiteman, Bankrate.com insurance analyst.

Making matters worse, 55 percent of Americans are also worried that they will not have affordable health insurance in the future. Women (60 percent) are more worried than men (50 percent), while Republicans (63 percent) are the most concerned group, with independents (62 percent) a close second. Forty-six percent of Democrats are concerned about affordable health insurance.

The fear may arise from first-hand experience with expensive health plans. “With the Affordable Care Act, anybody who now wants insurance can get it,” explained David Cusano, senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. “The question now becomes: ‘Can I afford to use it?’ When you think about people confronting out-of-pocket maximums at around $7,000 or deductibles of $5,000 for a family, that’s a lot of money. You throw prescription drug copays into the mix, and I can see where you would be worried.”

Medical bills are such of a burden to Americans that the nation’s most popular credit score provider is revising its model. FICO will change its calculations so medical collections will have a lower impact on credit scores, making it easier for consumers to obtain loans. The median FICO Score for consumers whose only major negative references are medical collections will increase by 25 points. In July, Experian said more than 64 million Americans had a medical collection on their credit report.

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