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Medical Bills Stack Up, Americans Pack Up

Medical debt is closely tied to the mortgage crisis that's pushing working families out of their homes and our economy to the brink of collapse.
 
 
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We all know that working families in America are squeezed in the current economic recession, plagued by skyrocketing health care costs and rampant home foreclosures. But how much does one have to do with the other? The answer is: A lot.

It turns out that medical debt is closely tied to the mortgage crisis that's pushing working families out of their homes and pushing our economy to the brink of collapse. One recent study found that medical crises contribute to half of all home foreclosure filings, with 23 percent attributable to medical bills.

A report by the Center for Studying Health System Change found,

The percentage of Americans in families with problems pay°©ing medical bills increased from 15.1 percent in 2003 to 19.4 percent in 2007... That translates to more than 57 million Americans of all ages in families in 2007 reporting problems paying medical bills in the previous 12 months-an increase of more than 14 million people since 2003.

According to the authors, the number of families struggling to pay medical bills increased at all income levels, and about 10 percent of respondents were burdened by more than $12,000 in medical debt. About 62 percent of families were contacted by a collection agency, and more than half borrowed money to pay medical bills. What's worse, one in five people with medical bill problems considered filing for bankruptcy.

The findings of both reports are consistent with finds from our December 2007 report, Too Great a Burden: America's Families at Risk. We found that nearly one out of four non-elderly Americans-61.million-is in a family that will spend more than 10 percent of its pre-tax income on health care costs in 2008. Some 17.8 million Americans are in families that will spend more than 25 percent of their pre-tax income on health care costs in 2008.

As Congress discusses how to pull Wall Street back from the edge of catastrophe, they must bear in mind the daily struggles of working Americans who cannot afford to pay their medical bills-a burden that has already thrown many off the cliff into financial ruin.  While families struggle to make ends meet, it is imperative that Congress and the next President take action on this immediately.