Sixty percent of US bankruptcies due to medical bills

This is really pathetic. When I tell people here about Americans fearing financial ruin when they get sick they look at me as though I am from Mars. This was exactly what happened when my father was diagnosed with cancer. Even though he had insurance he was still worried that somehow it would not be covered and he would leave his wife of 43 years with nothing but debt. Like others, he heard horror stories of high costs and lack of coverage so he made an irrational decision and went with treatment at the VA, which was about as bad as advertised.

Medical bills are involved in more than 60 percent of U.S. personal bankruptcies, an increase of 50 percent in just six years, U.S. researchers reported Thursday.

More than 75 percent of these bankrupt families had health insurance but still were overwhelmed by their medical debts, the team at Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University reported in the American Journal of Medicine.

“Using a conservative definition, 62.1 percent of all bankruptcies in 2007 were medical; 92 percent of these medical debtors had medical debts over $5,000, or 10 percent of pretax family income,” the researchers wrote. “Most medical debtors were well-educated, owned homes and had middle-class occupations.”

The researchers, whose work was paid for by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said the share of bankruptcies that could be blamed on medical problems rose by 50 percent from 2001 to 2007.

Any negotiations with the medical industry is going to be brutal and if it’s not, it probably means the end result will be terrible. Another horrible part of this story is what happens to those who become sick with something serious. The statistics (which are inside the link) are grim. Insurance companies move quickly to throw trouble makers (i.e. people who bother to use their insurance) out leaving them with even more limited options.

Maybe the health care initiative will work out but so far I still don’t see much stomach for the fight. I see Democrats caving so they can avoid they don’t anger anyone in business. Tough luck for consumers/voters who don’t have the lobbying power to match the deep pockets of the medical industry. Those profits had to go somewhere, after all.


An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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