More Than Two in Five U.S. Adults Had Problems With Payment of Medical Bills in 2003, Study Finds
More than two of every five U.S. adults -- about 77 million individuals -- had problems with the payment of medical bills in 2003, according to a study released on Wednesday by the Commonwealth Fund, Healthday News/Detroit Free Press reports (Pallarito, Healthday News/Detroit Free Press, 8/11). For the study, Michelle Doty, a senior analyst at the Commonwealth Fund, and colleagues conducted a more detailed analysis of data from a March 2004 study that surveyed 4,052 adults ages 19 and older between September 2003 and January 2004.
According to the new study, an estimated 27.7 million working adults had medical debt in 2003, and 62% of those individuals had health insurance. The study also found:
- 49% of respondents who had health insurance with annual deductibles of $500 or more reported problems with the payment of medical bills, compared with 32% of those with lower annual deductibles (Higgins, Washington Times, 8/11);
- 63% of respondents who reported problems with the payment of medical bills said that they did not seek necessary treatment because of cost concerns;
- 48% of respondents who had health insurance but not prescription drug coverage reported problems with the payment of medical bills, compared with 33% of those who had prescription drug coverage;
- 39% of women reported problems with the payment of medical bills, compared with 25% of men;
- 52% of black respondents reported problems with the payment of medical bills; and
- 14% of respondents ages 65 and older reported problems with the payment of medical bills (CQ HealthBeat, 8/10).
Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis added, "The trend toward higher deductibles in employer plans may have gone too far. 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" (CQ HealthBeat, 8/10).
However, Devon Herrick, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, said that researchers oversampled low-income blacks and Latinos for the study. "Why are they oversampling in the first place? To me, this is just a survey of people who don't want to pay for health care and want someone else to pay for it. It's just another excuse to expand public coverage of health care," he said.
Doty acknowledged that researchers oversampled low-income working adults, but she said the study represents an "absolutely representative sample" of working adults (Washington Times, 8/11).
An abstract of the study is available online.