More Than Half of US Adults Worry About Medical Bankruptcy, Debt

More than two-thirds of all U.S. personal bankruptcies are related to medical issues, such as the high cost of treatment or lost time from a job. A 2018 survey reported in the American Journal of Public Health estimated that more than half a million American families file for bankruptcy every year because they can’t meet the costs related to a medical issue.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 122.8 households in the United States last year, and if 523,000 file for bankruptcy due to medical-related bills, that represents about 0.4% of all U.S. households. Not so many, right? Well, in 2018, bankruptcies for medical bills amounted to nearly 70% of all personal bankruptcy filings in the United States.

A new survey by HealthCareInsider.com reveals that 56% of U.S. adults are either somewhat or very concerned that an unexpected health issue could lead to bankruptcy or debt. More than a quarter of Americans (28%) already carry medical debt, and almost a third (32%) have set aside at least $500 to meet medical bills. The survey was conducted earlier this month by YouGov and included online surveys of 1,414 U.S. adults over the age of 18.

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly has played a significant role in the concern over medical costs. In April, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reported that the average Medicare payment for a less severe case of respiratory infection that requires hospitalization totaled $13,297. The average Medicare payment for a severe respiratory infection requiring ventilator support for more than 96 hours was $40,218.

Medicare payments represent about 50% of the amount that private insurers pay. A March KFF study estimated the cost (think, sticker price) of medical treatment for a severe infection at $88,114 and $12,692 for a less severe infection.

The new survey indicates that just 28% of Americans have $3,000 or more in savings that they could use to pay medical bills. It’s not hard to see why double that percentage are concerned about being able to cover the cost of a family member getting infected with the coronavirus.

Here are several other highlights from the HealthCareInsider report:

  • Of the U.S. households that currently carry medical debt, 65% report indebtedness of $1,000 or more and 28% report having gotten an unexpected medical bill in the past 12 months.
  • Some 13% of Americans reported they had no health insurance and more than half of those (53%) said they could not afford the insurance.
  • Nearly 40% of survey respondents said health insurance was their largest medical expense.
  • Some 44% of respondents said they trust the Democratic Party to make sure they can get affordable health care, compared to 28% trusted the Republican Party.
  • Nearly 60% said they are somewhat or very worried that the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare).

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