Even with insurance, heart disease treatment costs often too much to bear for low-income families

By Mohamad Hamze

This week, the American Heart Association published the results of its ten-year study on the financial implications of chronic heart disease on low-income families. Its findings – presented at its yearly Quality of Care and Outcomes Research (QCOR) Scientific Sessions – aim to provide future direction for clinical research and policymaking with regards to quality of care of low-income families affected by atherosclerotic heart disease and its expenses.

What the AHA found was that many families quite literally cannot afford to have a heart attack or stroke. For low-income American families (defined as those families of four at or under 200% of the federal poverty line, which in 2015 was $24,250), one in four experienced “significant financial burden” from out-of-pocket medical expenses for chronic heart disease, and one in ten experienced a financial burden characterized as “catastrophic.” These delineations of hardship are defined as greater than 20% and 40% of total family income, respectively. However, perhaps most shocking was the finding that, on average, these burdens were greater for families with insurance than without it.

Overall, the study of nearly 21,000 low-income families revealed that “low-income families were three times more likely to experience a significant financial burden and nine times more likely to experience catastrophic medical expenses than middle- to high-income families.” Paired with the fact that out-of-pocket expenses were often greater in insured households, the study clearly indicates the glaring disparities in insurance coverage for low-income individuals and the need for more sufficient accommodation for the almost 9 million American families struggling financially with heart disease care costs.


American Heart Association. "Out-of-pocket expenses for chronic heart disease care inflict heavy financial burdens for low-income families; even those with insurance." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 April 2018.