Both consumers with health insurance and those lacking any coverage are reporting problems paying medical bills, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The New York Times. 

Among respondents with health insurance, 20% reported problems paying medical bills in the year before taking the survey. The troubles often cause significant financial challenges and changes in employment and lifestyle, according to a news release from the Kaiser Family Foundation

"As expected, the situation is even worse among people who are uninsured: half (53% face problems with medical bills, bringing the overall total to 26%," according to the news release. "Among those facing problems with medical bills, almost identical shares of the insured (44%) and insured (45%) say the bills had a major impact on their families."

Sixty-six percent of respondents reporting problems paying medical bills said they were the result of a one-time or short-term healthcare expense such as a hospital stay or an accident, according to the survey. Thirty-three percent said the bills amount from medical treatments that have built up over time.

Both groups report their medical bills harm their families as a result of less spending on basic household items and increasing credit card debt, according to the survey on the burden of medical debt.

The Kaiser Family Foundation and The New York Times surveyed 2,575 adults ages 18-64 between Aug. 28 and Sept. 28. More than 1,200 consumers reported problems paying medical bills while 1,371 did not.

According to the survey, insurance may initially guard people from having problems with healthcare bills but once those problems occur the impact is similar regardless of people’s insurance status.

"While insurance provides financial protection, that protection can be incomplete for a number of reasons, including rising deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing, out-of-network charges, the growing complexity of insurance that can leave consumers with unexpected bills, and the fact that many people have only modest financial assets to cover medical expenses," according to the foundation.

“In fact, people who have problems paying medical bills despite having health insurance are more likely than the uninsured with medical bill problems to say they’ve put off vacations or major household purchases (77% versus 64%), respectively,” according to the survey.

This trend continues through consumers other finances and household needs. Thirty-eight percent of insured respondents said they increased their credit card debt as a result of medical bill problems compared to 24% of uninsured respondents, according to the survey. Seventy-five percent of insured respondents compared to 62 percent of uninsured respondents cut back spending on food, clothing or basic household items; 63% compared to 51% used up all or most of their savings; and 31% compared to 17% took money out of their long-term savings accounts in order to pay for medical bills, the results show.

More people without insurance (41%) said they have problems getting the medical care they need as a result of medical bill problems compared to 26% of insured consumers, the results show.

In addition to the financial setbacks and debt respondents to the survey face because of problems paying medical bills, they also already have other forms of debt including:

  • Credit card debt: 56%
  • Car loans: 46%
  • Student Loans: 33%
  • Mortgages: 32%
  • Payday Loans: 17%
  • Other Outstanding Loans: 31%

High-deductibles and co-payments under some employer and Affordable Care Act health insurance plans have contributed to higher out-of-pocket costs at times for consumers, according to The New York Times article.

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