Medical Costs Rise, Americans Pay More

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Consumer medical spending isn’t going down in 2012. As a matter of fact, it’s rising, and above the rate of inflation.

One study examines the out-of-pocket burden of medical spending, and it’s not a pretty picture.

The situation really hasn’t improved over the past few years. Back in 2009, Deloitte published a groundbreaking study that concludes U.S. consumers spent $363 million (or 14.7% more) for out-of-pocket medical expenses.

These expenses aren’t tracked by the U.S. government and are spent on goods and services outside the review of health insurance programs, Deloitte says.

Now a new study comes out supporting the notion that out-of-pocket medical expenses are eating away at the household budgets of average Americans.

Palo Alto-based Simplee, an online health care advisory service, has rolled out its 2012 First Quarter Health Care in America Out-of-Pocket Spending Statistics. Simplee found an average American family of four spent $962 in out-of-pocket costs for the quarter, a hike of 3.3% from the same timeframe in 2011.

According to Simplee, health care costs have grown so expensive for Americans that they have to dip into their wallet to pay for it—and that’s on top of what consumers are already paying for their increasingly expensive health insurance.

Data from the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust Employer Health Benefits Survey (Sept. 2011) shows annual premiums for typical family health coverage rose 9% in 2011 to $15,073. Employers pick up the lion’s share of that amount, at $10,944, leaving consumers to pay the additional tab of $4,129.

In a statement from the Kaiser study, CEO Drew Altman called the 9% cost hike “especially painful for workers and employers struggling through a weak economy.”

At $962 for out-of-pocket expenses, and $4,129 for health care plan premiums, the total rough annual cost of health care for U.S families is in the neighborhood of $5,091—not exactly chump change for hard-pressed U.S. consumers.

What can consumers do to streamline their out-of-pocket medical expenses? Acknowledging it, Simplee says, is a powerful and much-needed first step.

“It’s evident that consumers are forced to shoulder a larger portion of medical expenses as out-of-pocket costs continue to rise,” says Tomer Shoval, co-founder and CEO of Simplee, in a statement. “Consumers can’t avoid health care any longer, they need to take ownership of it and manage it the same way they do their wallet.”

Medical consumers should track and itemize every bill, start asking their family doctor about less expensive prescription drugs, and, as always, adapt a healthy dietary program and hit the gym or track to lose a few pounds.

All of those practices can help curb health care costs, experts say.

Reaching into your wallet to pay for health care costs isn’t really a form of exercise, but maybe it should be. Because if Americans keep doing it enough—and all indications say they will—they may whip themselves into better shape.

But their financial health is an entirely different question.

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