Researchers propose “affordability index” for measuring health costs

Researchers propose “affordability index” for measuring health costs

The majority of Americans surveyed in a recent Gallup Poll indicated they were worried about the availability and affordability of healthcare. When asked specifically about the most urgent health problems facing this country, 27% said “cost” and 20% said “access.” These concerns ranked above the health problems of cancer, obesity, flu/viruses, and AIDS. In addition, 80% of those polled indicated they were dissatisfied with the total cost of healthcare in this country.

In an effort to more clearly “measure the ability of the average US household to pay for its medical expenses,” Ezekiel J. Emanuel, MD, PhD, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Medical Ethics and Health Policy, and his colleagues have proposed an Affordability Index.

Writing in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Dr. Emanuel states that the proposed index “places health insurance costs within an accessible context: as a percentage of income.” Other indices tend to focus on higher level measures such as “total national health expenditures, health care inflation, health care spending as a percentage of the US economy, and health care ‘waste.’”

Over half of Americans have a healthcare plan that is covered as part of their employee benefits. Dr. Emanuel states that “fully 56% of individuals, approximately 178 million, receive health insurance through ESI (employer-sponsored health insurance).” Those employers generally pay a significant portion of the cost of healthcare insurance and so “most individuals find it difficult to grasp the link between health care costs, insurance premiums, and wages.”

The goal behind the proposed Affordability Index is to help more people understand the impact and the magnitude of rising healthcare costs in America. As Dr. Emanuel concludes, “Directly linking health care costs to income could help to sensitize physicians, hospital executives, pharmaceutical companies, and other health care professionals to the financial burden health care accounts for among individuals in the United States.”