Families face holiday humbug due to high medical costs

Many Americans look to the holiday season as a time of carefree family fun and rest — especially in a year as tumultuous as 2020. But recent studies suggest some families’ budgets may be facing lumps of coal in their stockings this holiday season.

The National Retail Federation recently reported that consumers plan to spend around $1,000 this holiday season, roughly 5% lower than 2019. Another factor may lower this amount even more — the expenses health insurance doesn’t cover.

In the past two years, 71% of families with children under 18 in their household had to make some type of sacrifice or hard decision during the holiday season because of medical cost concerns, according to the 2020 Health Care Issues Survey from insurer Aflac.

The national survey highlights how over the past two years, medical cost concerns have forced 28% of families to rely on a credit card, 23% of families to spend less on holiday gifts or go without giving them altogether, and 21% to cancel plans to see family or friends during the holidays.

“Parents have navigated turbulent waters this year, including balancing their children’s education and their own day-to-day jobs all from home,” said Aflac’s Stephanie Shields, who is also a mother of three. “Unfortunately, the high cost of medical care in the U.S. is another factor families must navigate. Parents want to treat their families during the holidays, and if this season is anything like the last two, that may mean making more difficult financial choices.”

At a time when many Americans struggle financially due to the pandemic, unexpected out-of-pocket expenses stemming from just one hospital visit could subdue families’ budgets and holiday plans.

And the rising price of health care shows no signs of slowing down.

Among families who visited the hospital in the past two years, 70% faced significant out-of-pocket medical expenses beyond a copay or deductible during their most recent hospital visit. Of those, 64% said they spent $500 or more, up from 58% in 2019, and 45% said they spent $1,000 or more, up from 37% last year.

“Amid mounting uncertainty and rising health care costs, one option to help people take better control of their finances is supplemental insurance,” added Shields. “By getting help with the expenses health insurance doesn’t cover, individuals and families can focus on recovery, enjoy the holiday season, and look forward to the new year and beyond.”

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