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Illness Medical Bills Linked to Growing Bankruptcy Numbers

Medical factors contributed to nearly two-thirds of sample of bankruptcies in 2007

FRIDAY, June 5 (HealthDay News) -- Medical problems appear to be contributing to a growing number of bankruptcies in the United States, according to research published online June 5 in the American Journal of Medicine.

David U. Himmelstein, M.D., of the Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Mass., and colleagues analyzed data from a sample of 2,314 individuals who filed for bankruptcy in 2007. The researchers obtained bankruptcy court records of respondents and completed interviews with more than 1,000 of them.

They found that illness or medical bills contributed to 62.1 percent of the bankruptcies. Medical debts grew higher than $5,000 for 92 percent of those with a medical-related bankruptcy, and three-quarters of them had health insurance when they filed for bankruptcy. The proportion of bankruptcies attributable to medical issues rose by nearly 50 percent between 2001 and 2007.

"Medical impoverishment, although common in poor nations, is almost unheard of in wealthy countries other than the United States. Most provide a stronger safety net of disability income support. All have some form of national health insurance. The United States' health care financing system is broken, and not only for the poor and uninsured. Middle-class families frequently collapse under the strain of a health care system that treats physical wounds, but often inflicts fiscal ones," the authors conclude.

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