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Medical bills cause financial hardship for most Americans, study says

"With increasing prevalence of multiple chronic conditions, higher patient cost-sharing, and higher costs of health care, the risk of hardship will likely increase in the future," researchers wrote.

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People under age 65 are more likely to have difficulty paying medical bills, with women more likely than men to report multiple types of medical billing-related hardship, according to new research. Photo by Chris Potter/Flickr
People under age 65 are more likely to have difficulty paying medical bills, with women more likely than men to report multiple types of medical billing-related hardship, according to new research. Photo by Chris Potter/Flickr

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans say they have suffered financial hardship due to health care costs, a new study finds.

Researchers from the American Cancer Society looked at three different types of problems: difficulty paying medical bills, worrying about bills, and delaying or doing without care.

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"With increasing prevalence of multiple chronic conditions, higher patient cost-sharing, and higher costs of health care, the risk of hardship will likely increase in the future," wrote researchers led by senior scientific director Robin Yabroff.

In the study, they analyzed data from the 2015-2017 National Health Interview Survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and found that 56 percent of adults (more than 137 million) reported at least one of the three types of medical financial hardship.

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Compared with those 65 and older, adults aged 18 to 64 were more likely to say they had difficulty paying medical bills (29 percet vs. 15 percent), worried about paying bills (47 percent vs. 28 percent) and delayed or went without care (21 percent vs. 13 percent).

Among adults aged 18 to 64, those with more health problems and lower levels of education were more likely to have greater levels of hardship.

Multiple types of hardship were more likely to be reported by women than men, and by uninsured people (53 percent) than those with some public (26.5 percent) and private insurance (23 percent).

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The study was published online May 2 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Unless steps are taken to address the problem, it's likely to get worse, the researchers noted in a cancer society news release.

The group said that high out-of-pocket spending for medical care is an increasingly pressing issue among U.S. patients because they might have to go into debt, face the potential loss of assets, and have to cope with distress and worry.

More information

The Kaiser Family Foundation has more on health costs.

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