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Tough Trade-offs: Medical Bills, Family Finances and Access to Care

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Publication Date: June 2004

Publisher(s): Center for Studying Health System Change

Author(s): Jessica H. May; Peter J. Cunningham

Series: Issue Brief No. 85

Topic: Health (Health care financing)

Type: Brief


About 20 million American families—representing 43 million people—reported problems paying medical bills in 2003, according to a new study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC). While uninsured families are more likely to have medical bill problems, two-thirds of families with problems paying medical bills have health insurance coverage. Of all families with medical bill problems, almost two-thirds reported difficulty paying for other basic necessities—rent, mortgage payments, transportation or food—as a result of medical debt. People in families with medical bill problems also reported much greater trouble getting care because of cost concerns—one in three did not get a prescription drug, one in four delayed care and one in eight went without needed care.