NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

PROBLEMS PAYING MEDICAL BILLS

July 1, 2004

One in seven U.S. families -- about 20 million total -- had problems paying medical bills last year, according to a new report by the Center for Studying Health System Change. High out-of-pocket medical costs, low incomes, lack of health insurance coverage and inadequate coverage all can contribute to problems paying medical bills.

  • About 35 percent of families with high out-of-pocket costs -- defined as $2,000 or more in the past year -- reported problems paying medical bills.
  • About one-fifth of low-income families -- those with family incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $36,800 for a family of four in 2003 -- had problems paying medical bills, and about half of all families with medical bill problems are low income.

About 63 percent of families who said they had problems with medical bills also had problems paying rent, mortgages, transportation or food. Furthermore, 43 million individuals in those 20 million families had to adjust their health care needs because of cost concerns:

  • People in families with medical bill problems were four times more likely to report delaying care in the past year than families without such problems.
  • They were also five times more likely to report an unmet medical need because of high costs.

Source: Jessica May and Peter J. Cunningham, "Tough Trade-Offs: Medical Bills, Family Finances and Access to Care," Issue Brief No. 85, Center for Studying Health System Change, June 2004; "Study: Families Struggle With Medical Debt," Reuters, June 30, 2004.

For text http://www.hschange.com/CONTENT/689/

For study http://www.hschange.org/CONTENT/689/?topic=topic18

 

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