Importance: Health insurance is effective in preventing financial hardship from unexpected major health care events. However, it is also essential to assess whether vulnerable patients, particularly those from low-income families, are adequately protected from longitudinal health care costs for common chronic conditions such as atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD).
Objective: To examine the annual burden of total out-of-pocket health expenses among low-income families that included a member with ASCVD.
Design, setting, and participants: In this cross-sectional study of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey from January 2006 through December 2015, all families with 1 or more members with ASCVD were identified. Families were classified as low income if they had an income under 200% of the federal poverty limit. Analyses began December 2017.
Main outcomes and measures: Total annual inflation-adjusted out-of-pocket expenses, inclusive of insurance premiums, for all patients with ASCVD. We compared these expenses against annual family incomes. Out-of-pocket expenses of more than 20% and more than 40% of family income defined high and catastrophic financial burden, respectively.
Results: We identified 22 521 adults with ASCVD, represented in 20 600 families in the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. They correspond to an annual estimated 23 million or 9.9% of US adults with a mean (SE) age of 65 (0.2) years and included 10.9 million women (47.1%). They were represented in 21 million or 15% of US families. Of these, 8.2 million families (39%) were low income. The mean annual family income was $57 143 (95% CI, $55 377-$58 909), and the mean out-of-pocket expense was $4415 (95% CI, $3735-$3976). While financial burden from health expenses decreased throughout the study, even in 2014 and 2015, low-income families had 3-fold higher odds than mid/high-income families of high financial burden (21.4% vs 7.6%; OR, 3.31; 95% CI, 2.55-4.31) and 9-fold higher odds of catastrophic financial burden (9.8% vs 1.2%; OR, 9.35; 95% CI, 5.39-16.20), representing nearly 2 million low-income families nationally. Further, even among the insured, 1.6 million low-income families (21.8%) experienced high financial burden and 721 000 low-income families (9.8%) experienced catastrophic out-of-pocket health care expenses in 2014 and 2015.
Conclusions and relevance: One in 4 low-income families with a member with ASCVD, including those with insurance coverage, experience a high financial burden, and 1 in 10 experience a catastrophic financial burden due to cumulative out-of-pocket health care expenses. To alleviate economic disparities, policy interventions must extend focus to improving not only access, but also quality of coverage, particularly for low-income families.