ATLANTA — A survey shows 1 in 5 Americans say their families are having trouble paying their medical bills. Worse, half of those who are struggling say they are unable to pay a single dime toward those debts.
The survey of 52,000 people was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from January through June of last year. It’s the first time the government agency has looked at the issue in such a comprehensive way.
Peter Cunningham, who studies the issue for an independent health policy research group, says it may be the largest such study ever done on the matter.
Lower-income people struggled the most. They were three times more likely to have difficulty paying their medical bills over the past year.
The statistic of 1 in 5 who struggle with medical bills was reported by Cunningham and his colleagues in a smaller study in 2007 at the start of the recession. That figure remained the same in their 2010 survey, and that’s surprising since the ranks of the unemployed and uninsured grew by millions. However, he and other experts believe there’s something else at play here: Many Americans are likely just cutting back on doctor visits, prescription purchases and other health care spending.