Press Release

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October 24, 2012

Sue Ducat
Director of Communications
(301) 841-9962


From Health Affairs


Proportion Of Those With High Medical Costs Unchanged During Recent Recession


Bethesda, MD -- During a recession one would expect the percentage of people with high medical costs—those spending 10 percent or more of one’s annual family income—to increase. But a new study, being released today as a Web First by Health Affairs, finds that during the 2007–09 recession, the percentage of Americans under age sixty-five with high medical cost burdens hardly changed: 18.8 percent in 2009, compared to 19.2 percent in 2006. The author found that this was true because the lowered family income was offset by decreased out-of-pocket spending on health services, especially lower cost generic drugs. This study updates the author’s previous Health Affairs study on the same subject.


Despite The Recession’s Effects On Incomes And Jobs, The Share Of People With High Medical Costs Was Mostly Unchanged

By Peter J. Cunningham Cunningham is a senior fellow and director of quantitative research at the Center for Studying Health System Change in Washington, D.C.


The study, also to appear in the journal’s November issue, was supported by The Commonwealth Fund.


The finding was based on the analysis of data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys for 2001 and from the period during 2006–09. The author found that the average out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs decreased from $258 per person in 2006 to $162 in 2009, the savings due largely to the wider availability of generic drugs. As a result, families spent a smaller share of their health care bill out of pocket in 2009 compared to earlier years, although declining incomes consumed most of these savings.


For those with employer-sponsored private insurance, the average family premium remained virtually unchanged at $1,800: $1,832 in 2006 and $1,844 in 2009. Looking back at trends in medical costs, the author concluded that “health care became much less affordable to families during the past decade overall….Future trends in the affordability of health care to families will depend on trends in both overall health care costs and family incomes, both of which influence the demand for medical care.”

About Health Affairs

Health Affairs is the leading journal at the intersection of health, health care, and policy. Published by Project HOPE, the peer-reviewed journal appears each month in print, with additional Web First papers published periodically and health policy briefs published twice monthly at You can also find the journal on Facebook and Twitter. Read daily perspectives on Health Affairs Blog. Download weekly Narrative Matters podcasts on iTunes.

The full text of each Health Affairs Web First paper is available free of charge to all Web-site visitors for a two-week period following posting, after which it switches to pay-per-view for nonsubscribers. Web First papers are supported in part by a grant from The Commonwealth Fund.