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Insurance no guard against medical debt

TUCSON, July 4 (UPI) -- Having health insurance coverage is no guarantee against accumulating medical debt among working-age adults, U.S. researchers say.

Lead author Patricia Herman, an economist at the University of Arizona, says in 2010, about 40 percent of Americans -- 73 million people -- had trouble paying medical bills, up from 34 percent in 2005.

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"We think of insurance as protecting us from unexpected large financial impact. We have car insurance, house insurance and other kinds of insurance for that reason," Herman says in a statement.

"There is an expectation that if you have health insurance that you are protected from being financially devastated by illness or injury. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case."

The study used data from the 2008 Arizona Health Survey of 4,200 households with adults ages 19-64.

The study, scheduled to be published in August issue of the American Journal of Public Health, found 83 percent of Arizonians have health insurance, but some 27 percent of insured households report problems paying medical bills.

Households reporting either medical debt or inconsistent coverage were five to six times as likely to delay filling prescriptions or getting needed healthcare, the study found, compared to those households that were without medical debt and with consistent insurance coverage.

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