A study published Friday found that 1 in 5 households carry medical debt. Photo by CJ Gunther/EPA-EFE
Sept. 16 (UPI) -- More people are increasingly unable to afford groceries or pay their mortgages due to medical debt, according to new research published Friday.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, analyzed three years of data from the Surveys of Income and Program Participation, which is a survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau that provides information on the incomes of American households.
The researchers found that while the uninsured were at the most risk for collecting medical debt, they were not the only ones. People with private insurance, especially those with high deductibles, also carried medical debt at a high rate.
People with medical debt are "much more likely to be evicted, much more likely to be unable to pay for their utilities and much more likely to be food insecure," the study's lead author David Himmelstein, a professor at the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College in New York City, told NBCNews. "Even if you have what most of us think of as good insurance, you could well be liable for huge bills."
Nearly one in five households had some medical debt, with poorer people facing larger amounts of debt. The average American household owes $4,600 in medical debt, while women were more likely than men to carry medical debt.
Himmelstein also said that these statistics made the U.S. an outlier among most comparable countries.
"The kinds of things we saw in our study are virtually nonexistent in most other wealthy nations," Himmelstein said. "The U.S. needs a "real big change."