Most Bankruptcies Caused By Health Problems Suffered By People With Health Insurance

A recent Harvard study tells us that health problems cause more than half of America’s bankruptcies, and that the vast majority of people seeking bankruptcy protection have health insurance. The study paints a hauntingly familiar picture: people get sick, insurance covers nothing, so they’re forced to mortgage their homes to stay alive.

[Medically] bankrupt families with private insurance reported average out-of pocket medical bills of $17,749, while the uninsured’s bills averaged $26,971. Of the families who started out with insurance but lost it during the course of their illness, medical bills averaged $22,658. “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,” said lead author Himmelstein. “Unless you’re Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy.”


They found that a number of medical factors contributed to a family’s financial disaster. More than 90% of medically related bankruptcies were caused by high medical bills directly or medical costs that were so high the family was forced to mortgage their home. The remaining 8% went bankrupt because a medical problem caused them to lose income. The authors were not able to track credit-card defaults caused by medical bills, but a 2007 study found that, of low- and middle-income households with credit-card debt, 29% used their plastic to pay off medical expenses.

So much for credit card companies trying to convince us that bankruptcies are caused by loose-willed spendthrifts with flat screens.

Study Links Medical Costs and Personal Bankruptcy [BusinessWeek]
(Photo: alvi2047)