80 million US adults paying off medical debts

August 21st, 2008 - 1:07 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, Aug 21 (IANS) Nearly 80 million working Americans are paying off medical debt, up from 34 percent to 41 percent of the population between 2005 and 2007, according to a recent survey. The figure includes seven million seniors aged 65 and above. In a new Commonwealth Fund report based on the survey of 3,501 working age adults, the authors described how they are becoming more exposed to the rising costs of healthcare, either because they have lost insurance through their jobs or because they are paying more out of pocket for their healthcare.

This combination of factors, along with sluggish growth in average family incomes, is contributing to problems with medical bills and cost-related delays in getting needed health care.

The report found that in 2007, nearly two-thirds of US adults under age 65, or 116 million people, had medical bill problems or debt, went without needed care because of cost, were uninsured for a time, or were underinsured and had high out-of-pocket medical expenses or deductibles relative to income.

“We are seeing a perfect storm of negative economic trends threatening working families in the US,” said Sara Collins, Commonwealth Fund assistant vice-president, and the study’s co-author.

“While gas and food prices are increasing and home values are declining, the rise in healthcare costs is surpassing income growth and fewer people have adequate insurance. As a result, working people are struggling to pay their bills and accruing medical debt.”

While the increase in problems paying medical bills or carrying unpaid medical bills cuts across income brackets, low and moderate income families are burdened the most.

The report finds that more than half of working-age adults earning less than $40,000 a year reported problems paying medical bills or being in debt due to medical expenses.

Medical bill problems included not being able to pay bills, being contacted by a collection agency about an unpaid bill, and changing one’s way of life in order to pay medical bills.

Those with medical bills and medical debt are increasingly facing serious financial problems and sometimes facing trade-offs among immediate life necessities.

Thirty-nine percent of those with bill problems or debt say they have used up all of their savings to pay their healthcare bills; 29 percent are unable to pay for basic necessities like food, heat, or rent; and 30 percent took on credit card debt.

Twenty-four percent of adults under age 65 with medical debt owe $4,000 or more and 12 percent owe $8,000 or more in unpaid medical expenses.

The proportion of Americans who are uninsured continues to grow. More than one-quarter of US adults aged between 19 to 64, or an estimated 50 million people, were uninsured for some time in 2007, compared with 24 percent in 2001.

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