Medical expenses contributed to about two-thirds of bankruptcy filings in the United States, according to a new study released in the American Journal of Public Health.
Dr. David Himmelstein, Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York’s Hunter College and Lecturer at Harvard Medical School, conducted the study with a team that included two doctors, two lawyers and a sociologist with the Consumer Bankruptcy Project.
They surveyed 910 Americans who filed for bankruptcy between 2013 and 2016.
- 58.5 percent of bankruptcies were caused by medical bills.
- 44.3 percent were caused, at least in part, by income loss from illness.
- 67.5 percent said that medical costs added to their bankruptcy.
Himmelstein said in a press release from the Physicians for a National Health Program, “unless you’re Bill Gates, you’re just one serious illness away from bankruptcy.”
“For middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection,” he continued. “Most of us have policies with so many loopholes, copayments and deductibles that illness can put you in the poorhouse.”
“Even the best job-based health insurance often vanishes when prolonged illness causes job loss – just when families need it most. Private health insurance is a defective product, akin to an umbrella that melts in the rain.”
“In the Supreme Court’s words, bankruptcy is a fresh start for the ‘honest but unfortunate debtor.’ Our study shows that for many bankruptcy debtors, the misfortune continues to come from the way we pay for healthcare,” said Robert M. Lawless, one of the study’s co-authors and the Max L. Rowe Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law.