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Medical Debt a Problem for Almost 20 Million American Families
Many Face Tough Trade-offs Between Food, Shelter and Medical Care
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ASHINGTON, D.C.Almost 20 million American families had problems paying medical bills in 2003, forcing many to make tough trade-offs between medical, food and housing expenses, according to a national study released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).
Uninsured families are more likely to have medical bill problems, but two-thirds of families with problems paying medical billsabout 13.5 million familieshave health insurance coverage, according to findings from HSCs Community Tracking Study 2003 Household Survey, a nationally representative survey involving information on about 25,400 families and 46,600 people.
Of all families with medical bill problems, almost two-thirds reported difficulty paying for other basic necessitiesrent, mortgage payments, transportation or foodas a result of medical debt, the study found. And the 43 million people in the nearly 20 million families with medical bill problems also reported much greater difficulty getting medical care because of cost concernsone in three did not get a prescription drug, one in four delayed care and one in eight went without needed care.
"Medical debt is a problem for one out of seven American families and often reaches a serious enough level to negatively affect family finances and access to care," said Paul B. Ginsburg, Ph.D., president of HSC, a nonpartisan policy research organization funded principally by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
"For families with existing medical billsespecially lower income familiesthe fear of generating additional medical bills and some providers unwillingness to treat patients with outstanding debts may force many to postpone or forgo needed medical care because of out-of-pocket costs," said HSC Senior Health Researcher Peter J. Cunningham, Ph.D., who co-authored the study with HSC Health Research Assistant Jessica H. May.
The studys findings are detailed in a new HSC Issue BriefTough Trade-offs: Medical Bills, Family Finances and Access to Care.
Other key findings include:
The Center for Studying Health System Change is a nonpartisan policy research organization committed to providing objective and timely research on the nations changing health system to help inform policy makers and contribute to better health care policy. HSC, based in Washington, D.C., is funded principally by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is affiliated with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.