Medical debt is increasing even for the insured

Four in 10 Americans had trouble paying for medical care in 2007, according to the Commonwealth Fund’s latest study on medical debt.

The study, "Losing Ground: How the Loss of Adequate Health Insurance Is Burdening Working Families," looks at 2007 data on consumers’ and health costs.

Costproblems_2The Fund’s researchers examine 4 areas of cost-related access problems when it comes to health care for Americans age 19-64:

  • Those who did not fill a prescription (31%)
  • People not seeing a specialist when needed (20%)
  • Those skipping a medical test, treatment or follow up (25%)
  • Adults with a medical problem, but not seeing a doctor or clinic (31%).

Overall, 45 percent of American adults age 19-64 had at least one of these cost-access problems. This includes 29 percent of people who were insured all year.

Sixty percent of those without any insurance at all who had a medical problem did not see a doctor or visit a clinic. Then there are two slip-through-the-cracks gray areas: those who were insured all year, but underinsured — 42% of whom were sick but did not see a doctor — and those were were uninsured sometime in the past year but insured now — 57% of whom were sick in the past year and did not see a physician.

Jane’s Hot Points: This study used data to 2007, so the fact of increasing consumer prices for gas, food, and other goods in 2008 has not been taken account in these numbers.

Medical debt is the #1 source of personal bankruptcy in the U.S. In a 2005 study published in Health Affairs, researchers found that the average out-of-pocket medical debt for those who filed for bankruptcy was $12,000. The study noted that 68% of those who filed for bankruptcy had health insurance.

And according to the National Coalition for Healthcare, every 30 seconds in the United States someone files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem.

6 replies »

  1. That is a very bad news to hear but we can expect? Debt will increase even if you are insured. I think what we must do is try to prevent having debt. Even that is the only that comes into my mind to get rid of debt.

  2. Jane,
    I applaud you on commenting on this issue! You did the best job you could with the statistics you had at your disposal at the time of this writing because most people speak on this topic without referencing where the number they are using to back up their statements came from (if they had any at all).
    Gregg, I think you hit the nail on the head and in time (maybe not mine) the system will fail because of greed and then and only then will we be able to pick ourselves up and move toward the healthcare practices of Canada and abroad.

  3. Ah yes, but is anybody listening; and do they care? We continue to document the access problem, and counter to intuition or perhaps the ubiquitous “indigent care” stereotype slapped on this growing under-served population, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s, State Health Facts, the vast majority (93%) are either self employed, work for companies who do not offer health benefits, or live with someone who is insured.
    The employer sponsored health insurance model, the addiction of of hospitals, physicians and other professional services providers to game or re-engineer their payor mix in favor of higher margin outcomes, and therefore validate the discounted medical cost shifting game, only guarantees more of the same.
    I suppose we will reach the tipping point when the system either collapses on itself, or we actually witness a fundamental change of our “corrupt” and broken system.