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FROM OUR BLOG, BOOSTER SHOTS

Care is cut as budgets tighten

September 29, 2008|Susan Brink | Times Staff Writer

Here's something to get your mind off the financial crisis swirling around and scaring everyone silly. Take a deep breath, relax . . . and start worrying about the crisis in healthcare costs.

A slew of recent reports from government and private agencies shows that more people are having problems paying their medical bills, that costs of insurance and hospital beds continue to rise and that fewer people are filling prescriptions and going to the doctor.

One bit of bad news at a time:

Some 19.4% of 18,000 people surveyed, which correlates to about 57 million Americans, reported having problems paying medical bills in 2007. That's up from 15.1% in 2003, or what correlates to 14 million additional people, according to the Center for Studying Health System Change.

The nonpartisan policy research organization conducts a household health survey annually with information from 18,000 people. Most people in the survey, representing 42.5 million Americans, with medical bill payment problems had health insurance.

"Increases in problems paying medical bills are affecting not only those who have always struggled with medical costs -- low-income and uninsured people -- but also an increasing number of insured middle-income families," study author Peter J. Cunningham, a senior fellow at the center, said in a news release.

The worst consequence, one felt by 2.2 million people, according to the sampling, was bankruptcy as a result of medical bills. But even when the damage didn't hit quite that hard, people reported other financial disasters. They had problems paying for food and housing. And they were more likely to have unmet medical needs because of cost.

Which brings us to our second piece of bad news, from a report by IMS Health, a market research group that tracks trends in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. The number of filled prescriptions fell by nearly 2%, the first time drug sales dropped since the company began tracking the numbers in 1996.

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For the rest of this item, previously published on the blog Booster Shots, and other posts, go to latimes.com /boostershots.

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