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Could You Afford a Michael Clarke Duncan-Sized Heart Attack?

If you’re a famous actor like Michael Clarke Duncan, then medical bills are probably not a problem. But what if you’re not?

Monday, July 16

The internet was set on fire recently when folks heard that actor Michael Clarke Duncan had suffered a heart attack.

Duncan, the 54-year-old actor who is best known for his role in "The Green Mile," was rushed to the hospital at around 2 a.m. on Friday, July 13. Part of the story’s staying power was the fact that Duncan’s girlfriend, Omarosa Stallworth of "The Apprentice" reality TV show fame, supposedly performed CPR on him that may have saved his life.

But one thing missing from the story—and most stories about serious medical emergencies—is what Duncan will pay to deal with his heart attack. 

Duncan has plenty of money, as most well-known actors do, but what about the average working person who suffers a heart attack? How will the medical costs of a heart attack affect them?

According to the National Business Group on Health, the average cost of a severe heart attack is about $1 million, including direct and indirect costs. Direct costs include payments for hospital stays, doctors and prescription drugs that will be necessary after the attack. Indirect costs include lost productivity and time away from work. Even if that cost is paid over 20 years, that's $50,000 a year.

True, much of that will likely be paid by insurance or Medicare for those who have it, but many people, especially in the black community, are uninsured or underinsured. The uninsured rate for African Americans is more than one and a half times the rate for white Americans, and that’s largely because of a lack of employer-based coverage. Even though more than 8 in 10 African Americans are in working families, the percentage of African Americans who receive employer-sponsored health insurance remains a good 20 percent lower than whites.

Nationally, only 56 percent of African Americans have private health insurance coverage, according to figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). Medicaid and Medicare cover an additional 21 percent, but that leaves almost a fourth of the African American population (23 percent, according to their figures) without any kind of health insurance coverage whatsoever. Those folks would have to take on the burden of $1 million in treatment and lost wages on their own.

Costs are even skyrocketing for people with insurance. The price of health insurance this year increased more sharply than any growth in workers’ wages and rose at double the rate of inflation. A new KFF study found that the average annual premium for family coverage through an employer reached $15,073 in 2011, an increase of 9 percent over the previous year. That may not sound like a lot, but overall the cost of family coverage has about doubled since 2001.

The report went on to say, “higher spending was mostly due to price increases, rather than changes in the use of health care services: prices for hospital admissions, outpatient care and prescription drugs all grew at a much faster rate than general inflation in 2010.”

Translation: They’re increasing the price of medical insurance for the same reason a dog licks itself—because they can.

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