Rising costs continue to change the way Americans use the health care system.

That’s the tagline for the 2008 Health Confidence Survey published by the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI), released October 7.

Cost increases over the past year have directly changed health care consumers’ behaviors in the system. 74% of people choose generic drugs over brands, compared to 60% in 2007. 63% of people talk to the doctor about treatment options and costs, versus 53% in 2007. And, most alarmingly, 62% of Americans go the doctor only for “more serious conditions or symptoms,” compared to 48% last year.

EBRI also found that among Americans whose costs have increased in the past year, 29% decreased contributions to a retirement plan, and 54% decreased contributions to other savings accounts. 27%
used up all or most of their savings, 22% increased credit card debt, and 15% borrowed money to pay for health costs.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: There was a pivotal moment in last night’s rather tepid Presidential debate when Tom Brokaw, the moderator, asked the two Senators, “Is health care a privilege, a right, or a responsibility?” Senator McCain quickly responded, “A responsibility.” Senator Obama asserted, “It’s a right.”

The EBRI data accumulated for more than a decade demonstrates that there is a direct relationship between health care costs and a consumer’s use of the system. This year, 42% of Americans are not confident they’ll be able to afford health care without financial hardship, compared with 31% who felt that way in 2002.

Forbes magazine points out this week that the idea of health care as a right comes out of the 1948 Universal Declaration for Human Rights. Six decades later, Obama has asserted that should be the case for all Americans.