(CNN) — Heather Bixler wishes she could undo the moment she’s relived countless times: She was leaving her New York apartment with her 4-year-old daughter and infant son, who was in a baby carriage. It was May 2, 2003, and they were going to rent a movie.
The doorman, perhaps just to play around, picked up the stroller and held it almost vertical. Sean, the baby, fell out. His head bashed against the marble stair.
Sean’s skull was fractured, and he was bleeding internally. The incident left him with scar tissue in his brain.
Health care expenses growing fastest among children
A report released Monday from the Health Care Cost Institute, details how out-of-pocket health care expenses are on the rise, and spending in general is growing fastest among Americans 18 and under. The institute is an independent nonprofit research organization that partnered with four major insurance companies (Aetna, Kaiser, United and Humana) to analyze 3 billion insurance claims of people with group employer-sponsored health insurance. The study said consumers’ out-of-pocket expenses rose 7% from 2009 to 2010, according to the institute. For insurers, costs only rose 2.6% during that time period. Per person under 65, the average annual spending on health care was $4,255 — that’s a combination of what people and their insurance companies paid. Between 2009 and 2010, it rose 4.5% for Americans under 18. The trend has been upwards for children since 2007, when the average annual expenditure for this group was $1,790, compared to $2,123. Older Americans still spend more in absolute terms, however. The 55 to 64 age group spent $8,327 in 2010, a 3.1% increase over the previous year.
What is driving the trend in health care expenditures? The report suggest that it’s prices. The average facility price for an emergency room visit grew 11% from 2009 to 2010 ($1,327). Average inpatient surgical admission prices rose 6.4%; outpatient surgery prices rose 8.9%. If her family didn’t have insurance, Bixler has no idea what she would do — perhaps declare bankruptcy. Tammy Davenport, 38, laughs when she thinks about what would happen if she lost the health insurance she’s getting through her job. Her son’s medication alone costs $65,000 per month before insurance. In theory, she’d have to bear that burden — in reality that would be impossible. Like the Bixlers, she’s given up a lot for the sake of her chronically ill child. Davenport’s 17-year-old son Garret has a bleeding disorder called hemophilia. So does Davenport. Because people with hemophilia take a long time for their blood to clot, minor injuries can result in major trauma. Expenses are going up all the time. Her deductible three years ago was $500 per person, now it’s $1000. When Garret was very young, Davenport worked in daycare, partly so that he could be with her during the day. She also substitute-taught for awhile, another profession that allowed her the flexibility of spending a week in the hospital with her son if he had an accident. Davenport never got to go for a bachelor’s degree; her ex-husband never finished his. “I think anybody with a chronic illness has to make certain decisions in order to make sure they have health care coverage,” she said. “Sometimes you sacrifice food, sometimes you sacrifice living in a decent house, driving a decent car, just to make sure your kids are taken care of.” Davenport works at a specialty pharmacy where she takes care of people with bleeding disorders. Families that include individuals with bleeding disorders tend to be low-income, Davenport said. “It’s not normal for a family to be able to have a nice life, not have to worry about insurance and know their kids are going to be taken care of, it just doesn’t happen,” she said. “You spend your time sacrificing everything else to make sure that their medication is available to them.”