Study: 1 in 5 Americans Faced Medical Bill Problems in 2007

The proportion of Americans in families with problems paying medical bills increased to 19.4 percent in 2007, up from 15.1 percent in 2003, according to a national study released by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC). The growth translates to more than 57 million Americans in families with medical bill problems last year--an increase of 14 million people since 2003, according to the survey.

While rates of medical bill problems remained stable for elderly Americans, more non-elderly insured and uninsured people, alike, faced medical bill problems in 2007, the study found. And, although the rate of medical bill problems is much higher for uninsured people, most people with medical bill problems--42.5 million--had insurance coverage.

"Increases in problems paying medical bills are affecting not only those who have always struggled with medical costs--low-income and uninsured people--but also an increasing number of insured middle-income families," said study author Peter J. Cunningham, Ph.D., an HSC senior fellow.

About 60 percent of people reported that medical bill problems resulted from family members' illnesses, while 28.6 percent of bill problems were related to an accident or injury. About 8 percent of people reported that their medical bill problems were caused by the birth of a child. The amount of medical debt varied considerably, ranging from about one-fourth with debt of less than $800 to one-fourth with debt of about $5,000 or more. About 10 percent had debt of $12,000 or more.

The majority of people in families with problems paying medical bills were compelled to make difficult sacrifices as a result, including two-thirds with problems paying for other necessities, such as food, clothing, mortgage or rent, and more than half putting off major purchases, the study found. To access HSC's report on the study, go to www.hschange.com/CONTENT/1017/.

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