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Health Care Costs Are Causing More Personal Debt, Study Says

AUGUST 10, 2005 -- Insured and uninsured Americans alike are increasingly burdened by soaring health care costs and are going into debt because of high medical bills, according to a report released Wednesday.

Issued by The Commonwealth Fund, the report indicated that an estimated 77 million adults struggle with medical bills, have recent or accrued medical debt—or are dealing with both.

Of those reporting problems with medical bills or debt, 63 percent said they decided to forgo necessary treatment out of cost concerns, the study found.

For respondents with health insurance, the study revealed that those with less comprehensive coverage were more likely to face financial problems.

For example, the report indicated that 48 percent of insured working-age adults whose insurance did not include prescription drug coverage reported financial problems associated with medical bills. In contrast, 33 percent of respondents whose insurance included prescription drug coverage did the same.

The report also highlighted that women and African Americans are at a particularly high risk of experiencing financial problems related to medical bills.

While 39 percent of working-age women respondents reported problems with medical bills, only 25 percent of their male counterparts did the same.

Meanwhile, 52 percent of African-American working-age adults experienced problems related to health care costs, the study found.

With only 14 percent reporting problems with medical bills, senior citizens over the age of 65 are better protected than working-age adults, the report revealed.

The study is based on data derived from nation-wide phone interviews with 4,052 adults aged 19 and older.

"The trend toward higher deductibles in employer plans may have gone too far," said Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis in response to the findings.

"Greater care should be taken to ensure that health care is affordable for lower-wage workers if all Americans are to get the care they need and preserve savings they will need in retirement."

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