1 in 3 Americans Can’t Keep Up With Their Medical Bills

1 in 3 Americans struggles to pay medical bills according to a survey of more than 50,000 people by the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Specifically, the survey found that, in the first half of 2011, 1 in 3 Americans lived in a family that

- had difficulty paying its medical bills within the previous year;

- was currently paying a medical bill over time;

- had medical bills that the family was simply unable to pay at all.

As the CDC notes, previous research had found that, in 2010, 1 in 5 Americans had faced similar financial difficulties regarding their medical costs. The new study is larger in scope and also included questions such as whether one was able to pay medical bills over time that the earlier study had not.

In a summary of the study, NPR’s Julie Rovner points out that, “not surprisingly,” those whose incomes are lower had greater challeges in paying medical bills. Those whose incomes are just above the poverty line, the “near-poor,” were ”somewhat more likely” (45.8 percent) to have difficulties with medical bills than were those whose incomes were actually below the poverty line (41.3 percent), most likely because the very poorest individuals have Medicaid. Under Medicaid, health care providers are “generally not allowed” to bill patients.

But a number of senior citizens reported having trouble paying their medical bills, a finding that underscores the need to overhaul the Medicare program, especially with 78 million baby boomers on the verge of retirement. According to the survey, 19 percent of those between the ages of 65 and 74 and 12 percent of those over age 75 had some “financial burden” in paying for their medical bill, even though they are supposed to be universally covered by the Medicare program. Once again, those with lower incomes faced a greater share of burdens.

A recent poll shows that, while President Obama’s Affordable Care Act — about whose constitutionality the Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments — remains unpopular and misunderstood, fewer people now expect the quality of their health care to worsen under the act. Nearly half (47 percent) of those polled had thought the quality of their care would worsen after the act passed, but only 32 percent think so now, the Associated Press reports:

Most of the law’s major changes have yet to take effect, and dire predictions — of lost jobs, soaring premiums and long waits to see the doctor — have not materialized. Provisions that have gone into effect, including extended coverage for young adults on their parents’ insurance and relief for seniors with high prescription costs, only had a modest impact on health care spending.

For too many Americans, paying for medical care is the real issue. Those who do not have health insurance end up paying higher costs for what care they receive. While many bristle at the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that Americans carry health insurance or pay a fine to the government, it is meant to help Americans take preventative measures and care of themselves before needing extensive medical care. As one example, many of my students do not have health insurance; they pay for their medication and for the doctors’ visits they try to avoid as long as possible out of pocket. It is not a good thing when ER doctors have become your primary care physicians.

The results from the the National Center for Health Statistics suggest that the Affordable Care Act is not the reason for higher costs but could play a part in keeping medical costs down, and keeping us healthier, in the longer term.

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Photo by J D Hancock


Terry Vanderbush
Terry V5 years ago



ay m.
g d c5 years ago


Kathy Perez
Kathy J5 years ago

I am only 21 and I am already facing credit issues due to medical bills... and also frequently have to "suck it up" when I am sick, because we can't afford going to the doctor. I have an eye surgery that I need, but can't afford

Pam F.
Pam F.5 years ago

Let me tell you about medical bills and health care. I have a son who has had 30 kidney stones, he cannot get medical insurance as it is so expensive he cannot afford it and his company does not pay for health care. They want 1200 dollars for just basic insurance. He works 70 hours a week to take care of his family so where does he get that 1200. So he does not go to the Dr. until the pain is so bad there is no other choice. His wife has been sick since she delivered a baby back in October. So it is pre-existing conditions. I am sick of the health care or lack of in our country. So here you are they make too much to get any type of aid, too little to afford to pay. A=

Cindy B.
Cindy B5 years ago

Our system is horrible... you live as good a life as you can, you play by the rules... and what do you get for it? A horrible little room with a cot and a few possessions and $35.00 a month for all your needs. Brilliant. Well, it'll never happen to me. I am researching various foolproof ways to kill myself (eg, cyanide tabs you can keep in a little locket around the neck, etc etc), so even if I'm feeble or disabled I can do the deed. Screw 'em.

Jim Gayden
Jim Gayden5 years ago

This is simply a reflection of the overall situation here in the U.S.A. Capitalistic greed is enveloping our whole lives. We are all born here to be in debt for our whole lives. The further we are all in debt, the better off the rich are. It will only continue to get worse, until the greed is displaced by enlightenment. We are all only as well off as the poorest among us. The higher the percentage of the population that is poor, the worse off we all are. We are a sinking ship that needs some extreme changes, in order to be saved. As far as health care goes, it has become all about profits. Doctors pay ridiculous sums of money for their education, and then expect compensation, plus a hell of a lot more. And then they could care less about their patients. They only care that they will return, and hopefully more sick than they were previously. A self perpetuating cycle. This is disgusting in this day of medical technology that can virtually cure anything. Purely driven by greed. Capitalism is the problem with everything in this country. This is what the Republicans stand for. I am sickened that we are actually now the Republic of the United States. The republicans must be eliminated from office.

Paul F.
Paul F.5 years ago

I have read somewhere on the news that something like "Penny Health" is offering lowest health insurance rate for low and middle income families so search online and find them.

Paul F.
Paul F.5 years ago

Let me tell you one thing that the best health insurance plans has completely different set of meaning for different type of people. For those who are rich, the plan which can earn them more is best. However, those who are in the middle class have different ideas. They think that insurance plan is the best for which they will have to pay minimum premium. However, the poor person does not even know that what is health insurance? If you are one of them search online for "Penny Health" and get smart about insurance.

Deborah Vitek
Deborah V5 years ago

Just remember....there is 55 billion able to be budgeted for the "war on drugs", but no money and no support for national health care. After the U.S. medical system bankrupted us, my husband and I immigrated to Canada (luckily he had skills they needed). I will tell you that the medical care here is better than any I have ever experienced in the U.S. and it is basically, FREE....i.e., I pay 60.00 a month and if I get sick, I HAVE NO BILLS and excellent care. Wake up citizens of the U.S.

bob m.
bob m5 years ago

Beautiful com written right into the title picture... Psych help.. 5 cents..
after you've put off all the bafflegab, mumbo jumbo elitest corporate multi level skimming and and profession delusion.. what you end up with is a sophisticated vist to the neighbourhood sorcerer; trained in corporate sleeper biotechiques and a penchant for high end lifestyle.
Charlie brown would probably be a better road to take for sure....