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Medical Bills Driving Most Middle-Class Bankruptcies
Date:6/4/2009

ugust issue of the American Journal of Medicine, which was published online June 4.

"Our findings are frightening. Unless you're Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy," lead author Dr. David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a news release from the Physicians for a National Health Program.

"For middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection. Most of us have policies with so many loopholes, co-payments and deductibles that illness can put you in the poorhouse. And even the best job-based health insurance often vanishes when a prolonged illness causes job loss -- precisely when families need it most. Private health insurance is a defective product, akin to an umbrella that melts in the rain," Himmelstein said.

The findings show that, as a nation, "we need to rethink health reform," added study co-author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a primary care physician.

"Covering the uninsured isn't enough. Reform also needs to help families who already have insurance by upgrading their coverage and assuring that they never lose it. Only single-payer national health insurance can make universal, comprehensive coverage affordable by saving the hundreds of billions we now waste on insurance overhead and bureaucracy," Woolhandler said in the news release.

"Unfortunately, Washington politicians seem ready to cave in to insurance firms and keep them and their counterfeit coverage at the core of our system. Reforms that expand phony insurance -- stripped-down plans riddled with co-payments, deductibles and exclusions -- won't stem the rising tide of medical bankruptcy," Woolhandler concluded.

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