Health News Roundup

What tax refund spending tells us about health care costs, high-deductibles and delayed care, and more in this week’s roundup


Another sign of the health care crisis: Spending on medical expenses spikes when Americans get their tax refunds
Prachi Bhardwaj, Money, April 5
American are using their tax refunds more and more for one expense they can’t afford to hold off on: Health care. According to new research from financial think tank JPMorgan Chase Institute, people spend an average of 20% more on health care in the months after getting their refund and a staggering 60% more in the first week alone. Most of it, the reports show, went towards “deferred care” or in-person payments at a doctor’s office — which means that people were delaying going to the doctor until they had their tax refunds in their bank accounts.

High-deductible health policies linked to delayed diagnosis and treatment
Erika Stallings, NPR, April 18
A study published in Health Affairs used health insurance claims data for 316,244 women to examine the effect of having a health plan with a high deductible ($1,000 or more). The study compared women who switched from a low-deductible plan to one with a high deductible and women who remained in low-deductible plans. Women with low incomes who had high-deductible insurance plans waited an average of 1.6 months longer for diagnostic breast imaging, 2.7 months for first biopsy, 6.6 months for first early-stage breast cancer diagnosis and 8.7 months for first chemotherapy, compared with low-income women with low-deductible plans. Women with high incomes who relied on high-deductible health plans also experienced delays in diagnosis and treatment compared to women with low-deductible plans.

For low-income people, employer health coverage is worse than ACA
Drew Altman, Axios, April 15
There has been appropriate handwringing since 2010 about the affordability of Affordable Care Act plans in the marketplaces. But new data show that health insurance is decidedly less affordable for lower income people who get coverage at work than for their counterparts with similar incomes in the marketplaces. It’s another example of how, when we focus so much on the ACA markets, we lose sight of problems in the employer-based health system where far more people get their coverage. For lower-wage workers, their coverage is decidedly worse than ACA coverage is.


Alzheimer’s creates huge burden for African-American community
Judi Kanne, Georgia Health News, April 15
African-Americans are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as caucasians — and that disparity is a mystery to researchers. Researchers say African-Americans face barriers to participating in studies. For one thing, participation can be costly, and African-Americans are statistically less wealthy than other ethnic groups. Caregivers may have to take time off from work and lose income to bring patients to studies. Researchers may have found it easier to recruit participants from more affluent populations.


When medical schools become less diverse
Adam Harris, The Atlantic, April 16
At Texas Tech University’s medical school, just 4 percent of students are black; 13 percent are Hispanic. Those numbers might soon shrink. Research has shown that’s what happens when schools stop considering race in admissions, and that’s what the school plans to do. The lack of diversity isn’t a problem merely for young black college graduates hoping to become doctors someday, but for many of their would-be patients. Research has shown that health outcomes are improved when black patients have black doctors; they’re more likely to go for treatment and to be more satisfied with the care they receive.