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Seeing Red: The Growing Burden of Medical Bills and Debt Faced by U.S. Families

Analysis of the 2007 Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey finds the proportion of working-age Americans who struggled to pay medical bills and accumulated medical debt climbed from 34 percent to 41 percent, or 72 million people, between 2005 and 2007. In addition, 7 million adults age 65 and older had these problems, bringing the total to 79 million adults with medical debt or bill problems. All income groups reported an increase. Families with low or moderate incomes were particularly hard hit, as were adults who had gaps in health coverage or those underinsured. Because of medical bills or accumulated medical debt, an estimated 28 million adults reported they used up all their savings, 21 million incurred large credit card debt, and another 21 million were unable to pay for basic necessities. Sixty-one percent of those with medical debt or bill problems were insured at the time care was provided.

Also see: Losing Ground: How the Loss of Adequate Health Insurance is Burdening Working Families

Publication Details

Publication Date: August 1, 2008

M. M. Doty, S. R. Collins, S. D. Rustgi, and J. L. Kriss, Seeing Red: The Growing Burden of Medical Bills and Debt Faced by U.S. Families, The Commonwealth Fund, August 2008.


Michelle M. Doty
Vice President, Survey Research and Evaluation, The Commonwealth Fund
Sara Collins
Vice President, Health Care Coverage and Access, The Commonwealth Fund
Epidemiologist, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention