WASHINGTON, June 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Medical problems contributed to nearly two-thirds (62.1 percent) of all bankruptcies in 2007, according to a study in the August issue of the American Journal of Medicine that will be published online Thursday. The data were collected prior to the current economic downturn and hence likely understate the current burden of financial suffering. Between 2001 and 2007, the proportion of all bankruptcies attributable to medical problems rose by 49.6 percent. The authors' previous 2001 findings have been widely cited by policy leaders, including President Obama.
Surprisingly, most of those bankrupted by medical problems had health insurance. More than three-quarters (77.9 percent) were insured at the start of the bankrupting illness, including 60.3 percent who had private coverage. Most of the medically bankrupt were solidly middle class before financial disaster hit. Two-thirds were homeowners and three-fifths had gone to college. In many cases, high medical bills coincided with a loss of income as illness forced breadwinners to lose time from work. Often illness led to job loss, and with it the loss of health insurance.
Even apparently well-insured families often faced high out-of-pocket medical costs for co-payments, deductibles and uncovered services. Medically bankrupt families with private insurance reported medical bills that averaged $17,749 vs. $26,971 for the uninsured. High costs - averaging $22,568 - were incurred by those who initially had private coverage but lost it in the course of their illness.
Individuals with diabetes and those with neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis had the highest costs, an average of $26,971 and $34,167 respectively. Hospital bills were the largest single expense for about half of all medically bankrupt families; prescription drugs were the largest expense for 18.6 percent.
The research, carried out jointly by researchers at Harvard Law School,
Their 2001 study, which was published in 2005, surveyed debtors in only five states. In the current study, findings for those five states closely mirrored the national trends.
Subsequent to the 2001 study, Congress made it harder to file for bankruptcy, causing a sharp drop in filings. However, personal bankruptcy filings have soared as the economy has soured and are now back to the 2001 level of about 1.5 million annually.
Dr. David Himmelstein, the lead author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at
"For many families, bankruptcy is a deeply shameful experience," noted Elizabeth Warren, Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at
According to study co-author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, an associate professor of medicine at
Dr. Deborah Thorne, associate professor of sociology at
A copy of the study is available at http://pnhp.org/new_bankruptcy_study or through the American Journal of Medicine, firstname.lastname@example.org, (212) 633-3944. The authors have also prepared a supplementary "Fact Sheet" and a "Q&A" on medical bankruptcy, both of which detail the study's methods and findings. See the same link above.
"Medical bankruptcy in the United States, 2007: Results of a national study," David U. Himmelstein, M.D; Deborah Thorne, Ph.D.; Elizabeth Warren, J.D.; Steffie Woolhandler, M.D., M.P.H. American Journal of Medicine, June 4, 2009 (online).
Physicians for a National Health Program (www.pnhp.org ), a membership organization of over 16,000 physicians, supports a single-payer national health insurance program. To contact a physician-spokesperson in your area, visit www.pnhp.org/stateactions or call (312) 782-6006.
|SOURCE Physicians for a National Health Program, |
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