Most bankrupt families had health insurance
92 percent had medical bills over $5,000
Medical bills are behind more than 60 percent of U.S. personal bankruptcies, U.S. researchers reported Thursday in a report they said demonstrates that healthcare reform is on the wrong track.
More than 75 percent of these bankrupt families had health insurance but still were overwhelmed by their medical debts, the team at Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University reported in the American Journal of Medicine.
“Unless you’re Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy,” Harvard’s Dr. David Himmelstein, an advocate for a single-payer health insurance program for the United States, said in a statement.
“For middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection,” he added.
The United States is embarking on an overhaul of its healthcare system, now a patchwork of public programs such as Medicare for the elderly and disabled and employer-sponsored health insurance that leaves 15 percent of the population with no coverage.
The researchers and some consumer advocates said the study showed the proposals under the most serious consideration are unlikely to help many Americans. They are pressing for a so-called single payer plan, in which one agency, usually the government, coordinates health coverage.
“Expanding private insurance and calling it health reform will fail to prevent financial catastrophe for hundreds of thousands of Americans every year,” Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen said in a statement.
About 170 million people get health insurance through an employer but President Barack Obama says soaring healthcare costs hurt the economy and force businesses to drop medical insurance for their workers.
“Nationally, a quarter of firms cancel coverage immediately when an employee suffers a disabling illness; another quarter do so within a year,” the report reads.
Obama told Congress Wednesday he was open to making mandatory health insurance part of the overhaul.
Neither Congress nor Obama are considering the kind of single-payer plan advocated by Public Citizen, Himmelstein and his colleague Dr. Steffie Woolhandler.
“We need to rethink health reform,” Woolhandler said. “Covering the uninsured isn’t enough.