Health-care costs soar for lower income earners

Poor see biggest jump | Increased costs affect self-employed workers such as farmers

Canadians in the lowest income brackets saw the greatest increase in out of pocket health-care expenses, according to a 12 year survey.

The study, based on Statistics Canada data on household spending from 1997 to 2009, found that costs increased for all Canadians for insurance plans, dental care and prescriptions, but the lowest 20 percent of income earners had the greatest increases.

Study co-author Michael Law of the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Health Services and Policy Research said costs for this group jumped by 63 percent to more than $1,000 from $600, after adjustments were made for inflation.

“That’s growth in expenditures in the group that’s least likely to afford them,” he said.

“Canadians often talk of health care being free, but this study highlights that significant portions of health care are not free.”

He said the increased costs can significantly affect self-employed workers such as farmers or those who don’t have access to workplace health plans.

“If someone working in agriculture needs vision and dental care, it’s out of pocket,” he said.

Law said it could mean reducing use of health-care services or skipping a dose of medicine to extend its run or not filling it at all.

He said the implication is that access to services that fall outside of hospital and doctor visits are be-coming less equal across different income brackets.

Reasons for the rise could include:

  • increased demand for health services as Canadians age
  • health-care costs rising beyond the level of inflation
  • costs being transferred or delisted by government or private insurance plans

Law is currently studying Canadians who cannot afford prescription drugs, the types of drugs they are taking, tradeoffs they’re making to access their medicines and the long-term effects on costs in the health-care system.

“As a country that pays for hospital care, you might think of paying for prescriptions if it would stop them from using other types of care we do pay for,” he said.

“We’re squeezing the balloon at one end by not paying for prescription drugs only to have it blow up on the other end.”

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