Washington Post |Half of Americans are responsible for only 3 percent of health care costs
Here’s a simple reason crafting health policy is so devilishly hard: Most Americans are pretty healthy and a few are really sick.
The top 1 percent of health-care spenders use more resources, collectively, than the bottom 75 percent, according to a new study based on national surveys. Slice the data a different way, and the bottom half of spenders all together rack up only about 3 percent of overall health care spending — a pattern that hasn’t budged for decades. This creates a fundamental inequality in the country's health spending that is the crux of the challenge policymakers face: They need a system that works for people who are ill, but is attractive to those who are healthy and spend little on health care.
The political debate over health care often focuses on how a new system will meet the needs of the sick: Will cancer patients or people with diabetes access and afford care when they need it? But the Health Affairs study, “Most Americans have good health, little unmet need and few health care expenses,” shows just how important the healthy people who spend very little on health care are. The message you draw from that, however, may depend on your politics.
“The key takeaway message really is most people are in good health; they don’t spend a lot of money, and yet it’s important to have them be part of our insurance system. If they’re left out of the system, we’re not going to have the funds to take care of people who are very sick,” said Marc Berk, a health policy researcher and contributing editor of Health Affairs who led the analysis.