Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled “Medical Debt: Can Bankruptcy Reform Facilitate a Fresh Start.” The hearing examined medical bankruptcies in America, and witnesses included CAP fellow Elizabeth Edwards and Kerry Burns, a Rhode Island mother who was forced into “financial ruin” by her late son’s medical bills.
One of the highlights of the hearing was when Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) questioned Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Diana Furchtgott-Roth about medical bankruptcies. Franken asked Furchtgott-Roth — who claimed that moving towards a European-style system of universal health care would increase bankruptcies — about how many medical bankruptcies there were in countries that have universal health care, like Switzerland and France. Furchtgott-Rott repeatedly told Franken that she didn’t “have that number,” and Franken informed her that the number was actually zero:
FRANKEN: I think we disagree on whether health care reform, the health care reform that we’re talking about in Congress now should pass. You said that the way we’re going will increase bankruptcies. I want to ask you, how many medical bankruptcies because of medical crises were there last year in Switzerland?
FURCHTGOTT-ROTT: I don’t have that number in front of me, but I can find out and get back to you.
FRANKEN: I can tell you how many it was. It’s zero. Do you know how many medical bankruptcies there were last year in France?
FURCHTGOTT-ROTT: I don’t have that number, but I can get back to you if I like.
FRANKEN: Yeah, the number is zero. Do you know how many were in Germany?
FURCHTGOTT-ROTT: From the trend of your questions, I’m assuming the number is zero. But I don’t know the precise number and would have to get back to you.
FRANKEN: Well, you’re very good. Very fast. The point is, I think we need to go in that direction, not the opposite direction. Thank you.
Medical bankruptcies are an epidemic in the United States. According to a peer-reviewed study published earlier this year in the American Journal of Medicine, nearly 62 percent of all U.S. bankruptcies in 2007 were due to health care costs — and 78 percent of people who were driven into bankruptcy by their medical bills had insurance.