The impact of healthcare costs on upward mobility
For high-income individuals and families, a visit to a doctor’s office is a financial non-event. They typically have robust health insurance to cover the out-of-pocket costs, and their co-pays are low and easily affordable.
But for poor and even middle-income families lacking health insurance—or trapped in plans with poor coverage and high deductibles—a simple visit to the doctor can be financially devastating.
As the recent government shutdown revealed, nearly 80% of American workers live paycheck to paycheck. Given this reality, it’s no surprise that high healthcare costs are all-too-often the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back and drives people facing overwhelming medical costs into bankruptcy.
Georgians lack any health insurance
The American Dream is at risk
Tragically, the inability for many to afford quality healthcare is the primary reason why fully 13.3% of Georgians lack any health insurance today. Indeed, the exponentially exploding cost of healthcare significantly discourages poor and even middle-class people from visiting the doctor—resulting in longer term, poorer, and ultimately more expensive health consequences.
The bottom line is that despite its name, the ACA has not improved the health insurance system, nor has it achieved its two primary goals—universal coverage and affordable healthcare.
Indeed, in the nine years since passage of the ACA in 2010, not only is a significant percentage of the population not insured, health insurance premiums have grown 60 percent faster than the general inflation rate—while medical care services have increased 90 percent faster and hospital services more than three times as fast.
Simply put, when 17.9% of our nation’s GDP is spent on healthcare—totaling $3.5 trillion, or $10,739 per person annually—how can people in the lower and middle income levels ever hope to move up the ladder of economic mobility and achieve the American dream?
Will be pushed below the poverty line due to medical expenses
Healthcare costs are devastating for the poor
One study from 2018 in the American Journal of Public Health showed that 7 million people who make above 150 percent of the poverty level were pushed below the poverty line due to medical expenses. And 4 million of that number fell into extreme poverty (50 percent below the poverty line). Other facts throw even more fuel on the fire:
- Medical debt is a major cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.
- Poor and middle class people spend a higher percentage of their income on healthcare than the rich do.
- A significant story—often overshadowed by rising premiums—is the fact that health-insurance deductibles have also risen. This means that even when people need to use their high-cost health insurance plans, they still end up paying more and more out of pocket before their insurance benefits kick in.
Given this reality, it’s clear that when poor and middle-class Georgians are buried under an avalanche of medical expenses they have a much harder time pursuing the things we know increase upward mobility, including getting a better education, which leads to landing a better job with better medical insurance and a greater ability to save money, buy a house, and not be forced to live month-to-month.
Encouraging upward mobility through healthcare reform
Here at GCO, our mission is to remove barriers that keep people from thriving. In a very real sense, the overwhelming costs associated with healthcare are a burden that prevents both poor and middle class Georgians from moving upward on the economic ladder and achieving their dreams.
This is why we are calling for a comprehensive set of consumer-driven, market-based reforms to stabilize the current safety net program and achieve universal coverage for all Georgians by:
- Untethering healthcare from its close association with employment so that people won’t lose their insurance because they lose or change a job.
- Making shopping for health insurance just like buying any other insurance product so that consumers can identify coverage and price options—and compare apples to apples.
- Providing subsidies from the government—run by the Georgia Gateway—to allow low-income individuals and families to purchase insurance on the private market. This system would be means-tested by an eligibility engine that eliminates welfare cliffs and marriage penalties.
Thanks to federal waiver applications offered through the Trump Administration that allow states to come up with their own solutions to the healthcare crisis, Georgia has a unique opportunity to enact meaningful health-insurance reform that not only addresses access to high quality insurance coverage, but also keeps families from falling down the economic ladder into poverty because of a medical crisis.