American Journal of Medicine, internal medicine, medicine, health, healthy lifestyles, cancer, heart disease, drugs

Medical Bankruptcy in the United States, 2007: Results of a National Study

In 2001 in 5 states sampled, it was found that medical problems contributed to at least 46.2% of all bankruptcies. Since then, health costs and the numbers of un- and underinsured have increased, and bankruptcy laws have tightened. Despite these factors, medical related bankruptcy increased to 62.1% of all bankruptcies in 2007. Illness and medical bills contribute to a large and increasing share of US bankruptcies.

Abstract

Background
Our 2001 study in 5 states found that medical problems contributed to at least 46.2% of all bankruptcies. Since then, health costs and the numbers of un- and underinsured have increased, and bankruptcy laws have tightened.

Methods
We surveyed a random national sample of 2314 bankruptcy filers in 2007, abstracted their court records, and interviewed 1032 of them. We designated bankruptcies as “medical” based on debtors’ stated reasons for filing, income loss due to illness, and the magnitude of their medical debts.

Results
Using a conservative definition, 62.1% of all bankruptcies in 2007 were medical; 92% of these medical debtors had medical debts over $5000, or 10% of pretax family income. The rest met criteria for medical bankruptcy because they had lost significant income due to illness or mortgaged a home to pay medical bills. Most medical debtors were well educated, owned homes, and had middle-class occupations. Three quarters had health insurance. Using identical definitions in 2001 and 2007, the share of bankruptcies attributable to medical problems rose by 49.6%. In logistic regression analysis controlling for demographic factors, the odds that a bankruptcy had a medical cause was 2.38-fold higher in 2007 than in 2001.

Conclusions
Illness and medical bills contribute to a large and increasing share of US bankruptcies.

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— David U. Himmelstein, MD, Deborah Thorne, PhD, Elizabeth Warren, JD, Steffie Woolhandler, MD, MPH

This article was originally published in the August 2009 issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

2 Responses to “Medical Bankruptcy in the United States, 2007: Results of a National Study”

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  2. I entirely believe that bankruptcy due to medical bills is a problem. The price of an ambulance to take you to the hospital is already $1000. I would rather walk myself there or take a cab. Prices like that and “late-night” fees are the true problem. The medical industry has been a strong FOR-PROFIT business. Many doctor’s knowledge is already obsolete after leaving medical school and many issues that need attention because of their danger (Sodium Fluoride), are being snuffed because of pharmaceutical connections. There are so many things gone wrong, that we need to look back at what we are doing and see how much the animals love each other more than we do.

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