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Report: 72 Million Americans Struggle to Pay Medical Bills

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Tuesday, August 26, 2008 12:15 AM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: FDA & Prescription Drugs, Protecting Your Family, Medical Debt, Medical Care, Health Care System, Debt, Health Reform


IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockphoto / medical solutions / author: gmutlu

An estimated 72 million adults in the United States are having problems paying their medical bills, forcing them to make tough financial choices, according to a new report by the Commonwealth Fund.

Some report falling so far behind, they now face collection agencies as a result.

45 percent of adults reported that rising costs of healthcare and declining insurance coverage prevented them from getting necessary medical care in 2007, causing them to sacrifice the health care they need.

“The report findings support mounting evidence that the health system is falling short of where it needs to be to ensure good health and economic security,” said Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund.

The report estimates that nearly 116 million people fell into one of four categories last year: uninsured, underinsured, struggling to pay stacked medical bills or did not have healthcare insurance at all due to associated costs.

The foundation examined responses from nearly 3,500 U.S. residents that participated in a telephone survey that is conducted every two years.

In 2007 nearly 50 percent had medical bills in excess of $2,000. 21 percent had $3,999, 12 percent had more than $4,000 in medical debts and another 12 percent had as much as $8,000 in debts.

In an effort to make sure their medical bills got paid last year, more than half reported depleting their savings accounts, while one-third sacrificed everyday essentials such heat or food and many racked up more debt by way of credit cards. Ten percent took out a second mortgage or home equity loan.

While those people who have no health insurance coverage at all are most likely to carry a steeper amount of overall medical debt, the report found that many people with medical coverage also reported problems paying their medical bills.

Nearly double as many “underinsured” patients, those that either had gaps in insurance coverage or high insurance deductibles, carried debt compared to those that have more extensive health coverage.

Sixty-one percent of those surveyed had health insurance coverage during the time they received medical care that later became the source of their medical debt.

The report findings support the need to boost the number of Americans that have healthcare insurance, Commonwealth Fund officials said.

“It will be essential for health reform proposals to not only cover everyone but that they also provide health benefits that coverage essential services with appropriate financial protections,” said Sara Collins, vice president of the foundation.

“Such protections should include out-of-pocket costs and affordable premiums,” she added. #

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