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Health Insurance Unaffordable for More Than Thought: Study

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Most uninsured families who aren't covered by group health insurance through work can't afford to buy health insurance, says a U.S. government study.

Unlike most studies that use income alone to estimate how many Americans can afford health insurance, this study shows that measuring families' median net worth (the value of their savings plus other assets minus debt) provides a more accurate count.

Using national survey data, researchers with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that the median net worth of families who purchased health insurance was $105,819 -- nearly 35 times greater than the median net worth of $3,057 for uninsured families. Median net worth means that half the families had net worth above or below that amount.

In contrast, the median income of families who purchased health insurance was $41,086 -- only 2.3 times greater than the median income of $17,690 for uninsured families.

The study also found that 4.1 percent of families with access to work-based health insurance were poor (family income below 100 percent of the federal poverty line), and 11.1 percent were low income (family income 100 percent to 199 percent of the federal poverty line). Among families without access to employer-based health insurance, 33.8 percent were poor, and 28.4 percent were low income.

"This study has important implications for defining who can afford to pay for health insurance in the next wave of health care reform," AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy, said in a news release. "We need accurate, evidence-based findings to ensure that we are providing policymakers with reliable information."

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