- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2014

Despite a drop in the number of uninsured Americans under Obamacare, more put off medical treatment this year because they can’t afford it, according to new survey data.

A third of Americans say they have put off getting medical treatment that they or their family members needed this year because of the cost. That’s in line with the roughly 30 percent figures seen in recent years, but still among the highest readings in the 14-year history of asking the question, according to a Gallup poll released Friday.

“Last year, many hoped that the opening of the government healthcare exchanges and the resulting increase in the number of Americans with health insurance would enable more people to seek medical treatment,” the pollsters said. “But, despite a drop in the uninsured rate, a slightly higher percentage of Americans than in previous years report having put off medical treatment, suggesting that the Affordable Care Act has not immediately affected this measure.”

The increase in delayed treatment because it’s seen as too expensive could reflect high deductibles or copays that are part of the plans purchased by the newly insured, although separate research has shown that most of the newly insured in 2014 are satisfied with their health coverage, Gallup said.

“Variation in the pricing for medical treatments, not to mention differences in how much insurance plans cover, could be confusing Americans or making them fear a needed treatment is too expensive. And while the costs of medical procedures aren’t rising as rapidly as they once were, it is still too early to tell if that is an effect of the Affordable Care Act and how prices may change in the future,” the pollsters said.

Uninsured Americans are still the most likely to have delayed medical treatment because of cost, with 57 percent saying they put off treatment, compared with 34 percent with private insurance and 22 percent with Medicare or Medicaid.

But the number of Americans with private health plans who put off medical treatment because of cost jumped from 25 percent last year to 34 percent this year, according to the poll.

More upper-income Americans also delayed treatment this year, up to 28 percent from 17 percent last year, the poll showed.

However, the percentage of lower-income Americans — those with annual household incomes under $30,000 — who put off treatment in the past 12 months dropped from 43 percent in 2013 to 35 percent in 2014.

The percentage of middle-income Americans who have put off medical treatment remains roughly the same as last year, at 38 percent.

Asked to rate the seriousness of their medical condition of illness, 22 percent of Americans who delayed treatment due to cost said they had “very” or “somewhat serious” conditions.

“This is double the 11 percent who say they have put off treatment for a non-serious condition. Furthermore, the percentage who have put off treatment for a serious condition has increased slightly since 2013,” Gallup said.

The findings are the latest in a series of blows this month that have shaken confidence in President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment.

First, the Supreme Court announced it would hear a case that challenges the legality of the federal tax credits provided for Obamacare plans in the 36 states that run their own health insurance exchanges. If the challenge succeeds, it would erase the subsidized health care for 5.4 million Americans and dramatically increase how much they pay for Obamacare.

It took another hit when video surfaced of MIT economist and Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber saying the law passed only because of a “lack of transparency” about the true cost to taxpayers and the “stupidity of the American voter.”

Last week, New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who is the No. 3 Senate Democratic leader, said it was a “mistake” to tackle health care reform in 2009-2010 instead of doing more to bolster the ailing economy.

“It wasn’t the change we were hired to make. Americans were crying out for the end to the recession, for better wages and more jobs — not changes in health care,” he said in a major speech in Washington.

All the while, the administration has struggled to meet enrollment benchmarks, with sign-ups next year now expected to be as low as 9 million people, about 4 million short of the original goal.

The administration admitted in November that it boosted enrollment figures by about 400,000 in 2014, counting dental plans with medical plans, and actually didn’t hit the goal of 7 million sign-ups as it previously claimed.

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