Uninsured Americans will spend $30 billion a year in out of pocket expenses and incur another $56 billion in government-subsidized expenses, says a n
August 25, 2008

Uninsured Americans will spend $30 billion a year in out of pocket expenses and incur another $56 billion in government-subsidized expenses, says a new study for healthaffairs.org by Jack Hadley of George Mason University in Virginia and a team at the Urban Institute.

"The uninsured receive a lot less care than the insured, and they pay a greater percentage of it out of pocket. Contrary to popular myth, they are not all free riders," Hadley said.

Current estimates show that 47 million Americans lack any health insurance, and 28 million have gone without for some part of the year. The U.S. Census bureau is scheduled to release new estimates on Tuesday.

The study goes on to suggest that if the uninsured were covered, they would spend more on healthcare. An insured person spends about $100 dollars more a year, on average, out of their own pocket than does someone without insurance.

And in the meantime, Sen. Bernie Sanders has a sensible suggestion for a filler measure.

For a relatively small amount of money, we can provide primary health care to every American in need of it through an expansion of the successful Federally Qualified Health Center program. On a budget of only $2 billion a year, this program, which has enjoyed widespread bipartisan support, now provides primary health care, dental care, mental health counseling, and low-cost prescription drugs to 17 million people through 1,100 health center organizations in every region of the country for an average cost of $125 per patient per year. The doors of these centers are open to all, including patients with Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance, or no insurance at all, with sliding-scale fees.

... for a total of $8.3 billion a year, we could have 4,800 centers caring for 56 million people in every medically-underserved region of the country.

This upfront investment – which constitutes less than 0.5 percent of overall U.S. spending on health care – would more than pay for itself. The centers are among the most cost efficient federal programs in existence today. On average, medical expenses at health centers are 41 percent lower than in other health care settings.

Most importantly, from a financial point of view, by treating people when they should be treated, we can save billions by keeping patients away from emergency rooms and expensive hospitalizations.

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