Washington State Report Details Cost of Medically Uninsured

November 19, 2009

The number of Washingtonians with no health insurance will soon reach 1 million, according to a report issued yesterday by the state’s Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

Kreidler also predicts that the cost of uncompensated medical care in the state will reach $1 billion annually by 2011.

“The widespread and growing lack of health insurance in Washington state is hurting families, communities and our state’s economy in ways that we can no longer afford to ignore,” said Kreidler.

The report includes costs, trends, projections and a county-by-county breakdown of the number of uninsured people.

In seven years, the total cost of uncompensated care—uncollected medical debts and charity care by hospitals and other health providers—has increased by over 80 percent from $457 million in 2002 to a projected $830 million by the end of this year.

Many of these costs are quietly passed on to the insured in the form of a hidden tax. According to the report, uncompensated care costs the average insured Washington family $917 a year.

Kreidler added that today, even people with insurance are struggling.

“One in four people with insurance don’t have enough to meet their needs in a medical emergency,” he said. “Half of the uncompensated care costs today are generated by people with insurance – people who are one diagnosis away from bankruptcy.”

In general, rural areas are harder hit. For example, by 2011, the number of uninsured people in King County will reach 14.3 percent. Less-urban areas of Washington will see average uninsured rates of nearly 19 percent.

“An economic recovery will not solve this problem,” said Kreidler. “Even in good times, health care costs continued to rise and so have the numbers of the uninsured and underinsured. We’re at a critical crossroads today. Health care inflation is far outstripping the business and personal-income increases necessary to pay for health care.”

Kreidler said we have a once in a generation opportunity to pass health care reform.

“Many people fear the costs of health care reform and I don’t blame them,” he added. “But I’ll tell you what keeps me up at night, it’s thinking about what happens if we fail. We’ll spend $33 trillion over the next decade, get the results approaching a third world country and outspend our economic competitors two to one. We simply cannot afford to fail.”

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