About one quarter of American families are struggling under the weight of health care costs, according to new government data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the CDC, it’s important to consider family units when studying medical debt because one family member’s bills can negatively impact everyone in the household.
The report, which drew from a large national survey of more than 43,000 families in the United States, found that over 16 percent of families had problems paying their medical bills in 2012. And nine percent reported they had bills that they weren’t able to pay at all:
The issue isn’t limited to American families who lack health insurance, either. About the same number of Americans who have private insurance or public insurance, roughly 21 percent of each group, reported that health care represented a financial burden in 2012. That number rises to about 40 percent for uninsured families — but the families with a mix of insured and non-insured members actually struggled the most, with 46 percent of that group struggling to afford their medical bills:
The rising cost of health care has been squeezing American families for years. The annual medical expenses for a family of four now exceed the cost of groceries to feed them for an entire year. The average ER trip costs 40 percent more than the typical American spends on rent, and even routine procedures in hospitals are often billed at rates far beyond what the services are actually worth.
This has contributed to a society where health costs top Americans’ list of financial concerns, and one in three people skip out on the medical care they need in order to save money. After suffering from a catastrophic event, some desperate Americans now turn to the Internet to attempt to crowdfund the money they need to pay off their large medical bills.
Obamacare will take some steps to address this issue, both by increasing insurance coverage among Americans who previously couldn’t afford it and strengthening consumer protections to ensure that insurance companies aren’t charging exorbitant out-of-pocket costs. But putting an end to medical bankruptcies — by some estimates, health costs are the most common reason that Americans go bankrupt — will require additional efforts to attack poverty and income inequality.