Uninsured Heart Patients Often Face Daunting Bills

From Drugs.com - November 13, 2017

Uninsured Heart Patients Often Face Daunting Bills

MONDAY, Nov. 13, 2017 -- A life-threatening heart emergency can spell financial doom for people who do not have health insurance, a pair of new studies shows.

Around 4 out of 5 uninsured patients hospitalized for a heart attack, stroke or heart bypass surgery faced financial ruin before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, the researchers reported.

"Medical expenses are the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in the United States," said Dr. Rohan Khera, lead researcher of one study and a cardiology fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. "The uninsured are particularly vulnerable."

Both studies relied on the National Inpatient Sample, the largest publicly available inpatient health care database in the United States. One study focused on the financial toll of heart attacks and strokes, while the other examined the impact of heart bypass operations.

About 15 percent of all heart attack and stroke patients and 9 percent of heart bypass patients were uninsured between 2008 and 2012, according to the studies.

A large majority of those folks wound up with catastrophic health expenses that ate into their household finances, said Khera and Dr. Jonathan Hong, lead author of the heart bypass study and a cardiac surgery resident at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The researchers defined catastrophic expenses as a hospital bill that exceeded 40 percent of a family's annual household budget, excluding money spent on food, Khera said.

"Any expense that is beyond the means of the patient and is being paid for by their savings has the potential of becoming catastrophic," potentially nudging them and their families into bankruptcy, Khera said.

Among the uninsured, hospital bills exceeded the threshold for a financial catastrophe for:

During the years of the studies, the average hospital bill for heart attacks reached $53,384, while strokes cost an average of $31,218. The cost for heart bypass surgeries ranged from $85,891 to $177,546.

The findings were to be presented Monday at the American Heart Association's annual meeting, in Anaheim, Calif. Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.


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