Health costs and insurance still U.S. problems - full report

WASHINGTON, -- Health reform may be off the U.S. political radar screen, but insurance coverage remained a pressing problem and many poor...

WASHINGTON, -- Health reform may be off the U.S. political radar screen, but insurance coverage remained a pressing problem and many poor and sick Americans who reported having trouble getting medical care, according to a study released on Tuesday.

A third of the 3,993 adults surveyed reported at least one ``core'' access problem last year -- being uninsured for at least part of the year, having trouble paying medical bills or being unable to get the medical care they thought they needed, even when going without meant living with pain or disability.

``Is there a crisis in our health care system? The voices of the people that we surveyed give life to the statistics and tell us a story of millions of individual crises in getting and in paying for health care each year,'' wrote Karen Donelan and Robert Blendon, both at Harvard School of Public Health.

The researchers, whose findings appears in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, told a news briefing that their study contradicts the conventional wisdom that people can get health care when they really need it.

``That's untrue,'' said Donelan.

Getting care was a problem for 45 percent of the uninsured and 11 percent of the insured. Other studies found that the uninsured often put off getting care, seeking help only when their conditions deteriorated.

Health insurance was one of the hottest issues in the 1992 presidential race and the failed universal coverage initiative dominated President Bill Clinton's first two years in office.

But in the 1996 race, while the number of uninsured passed 40 million according to the U.S. Census bureau, the topic has scarcely been mentioned.

Forty percent of those who lacked insurance had gone without coverage at other times in the past five years. About 60 percent were without insurance for the first time in five years. Seventy percent of the uninsured had no coverage for at least six months.

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