High Health Costs Burdening Many Families

Significant numbers of families are facing financial pressures due to high medical bills, a new survey finds. (Image: Don Bayley/iStockphoto.com)

Many US families are facing financial stresses because of the high costs of health care, report researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The researchers, using data from the National Health Interview Survey collected January to June 2011, estimate that about 1 in 3 individuals was living in a family experiencing financial burdens due to health care, about 1 in 5 individuals was in a family having problems paying medical bills, and about 1 in 10 was in a family unable to pay medical bills at all.

The survey results are based on information collected on all family members in each household and involves 52 043 individuals.

Older adults, particularly those who were 65 years and older—the age group eligible for Medicare—were less likely to be living in a family with medical-related financial burdens, the survey revealed. The data indicated that almost 24% of children 17 years and younger and 21% of adults aged 18 to 64 years were in families having problems paying medical bills; in contrast, only 10% of adults aged 65 to 74 years and 7% of those 75 years and older were in similar families.

Differing levels of financial burden related to health cost were seen when looking at race or ethnicity. The researchers found about 28% of blacks reported problems paying medical bills in the 12 months just prior to answering the survey questions, as did about 25% of Hispanics, 20% of whites, and 10% of Asians.

The survey found that roughly one-third of individuals in “poor” families (those whose income was below the poverty threshold) or “near poor” families (100% to less than 200% of the poverty threshold) had problems paying medical bills in the past 12 months, compared with 16% of those in “not poor” families. The US Census Bureau’s 2011 poverty threshold for a family of 4 with 2 children under age 18 was $22 811.

Categories: Caring for the Uninsured and Underinsured