Doctor taking patient's blood pressure
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The U.S. health care system is remarkable in the quality of care it can provide. It’s also massive, accounting for one-sixth of the nation’s economy.

But many Americans find the system inaccessible and unaffordable.

In a recent Gallup survey, people cited health care as the nation’s top problem. Bankrate’s Money Pulse survey earlier this month found members of 1 in 4 U.S. households have decided not to seek medical attention because of the cost. And, 56 percent of Americans worry they might not have affordable health insurance at some point in the future.

Cost is a barrier to medical care

Health care inflation has been slowing — costs for health benefits offered by employers have been rising at an annual rate of around 1 percent so far this year, after surging by double digits in the early 2000s. But unsubsidized premiums for Obamacare health plans have gone up by an average 25 percent, which the National Conference of State Legislatures calls “shocking.”

President Donald Trump and Republican congressional leaders have been focused on repealing and replacing Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. No matter what happens with that effort, the broader problems will persist.

It’s not the best prognosis. But you can take steps to keep the nation’s health care woes from putting your finances on the critical list.

Healthy advice

To keep your household budget reasonably healthy as health care costs rise and insurance seems to cover less and less, follow this regimen:

  • Maintain emergency savings. A savings cushion can help reduce the financial impact when big health care expenses flare up.
  • Consider opening a health savings account. HSAs can help with high deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. Deposits into HSAs are either tax-deductible or made with pretax income, and qualified withdrawals also are tax-free.
  • Discuss prices and possible discounts with your physicians and other health care providers. While many Americans are hesitant to haggle over the cost of care, this approach can result in savings.
  • Consider taking out a personal loan to cover expensive medical care. Be smart about paying it off, as you would with any other major expense.
  • You could use a balance-transfer credit card to deal with a big medical bill that insurance won’t cover, but resolve to pay off the balance as quickly as you can.

Given the size of the nation’s medical system and the number of dollars involved, it seems ripe for the kind of technological disruption (and improvement) that we’ve seen ripple through other sectors, such as financial services and retailing.

Obviously, something must be done — stat!

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