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JAMA Cardiol. 2018 Aug 1;3(8):729-738. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2018.1813.

Association of Out-of-Pocket Annual Health Expenditures With Financial Hardship in Low-Income Adults With Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease in the United States.

Author information

Division of Cardiology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.
Center for Healthcare Advancement and Outcomes, Baptist Health South Florida, Miami Beach.
Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, Yale New Haven Health, New Haven, Connecticut.
Section of Cardiovascular Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
Department of Health Policy and Management, Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, Connecticut.



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).


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.


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.

[Available on 2019-07-03]

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