Some 74.7 million Americans under the age of 65 were uninsured at some point during 2001 and 2002, Families USA said today. Also today, the Access Project at Brandeis University released a new report saying Americans with medical debt are facing more problems, including denial or delay of medical care and aggressive collection practices from providers. The release of the new data coincided with a major event in Washington to promote Cover the Uninsured Week March 10-17, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "America's hospitals stand on the front lines of the uninsurance crisis," Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, said at the event, which also was attended by Sister Mary Roch Rocklage, chairwoman of the American Hospital Association; American Medical Association President Yank Coble Jr.; AARP CEO Bill Novelli; and Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The most recent Census Bureau estimate put the number of uninsured U.S. residents at 41 million in 2001.
One-third of the 89 respondents to the Access Project survey of people with medical debt said a healthcare provider had refused to provide care or delayed providing care because of unpaid medical bills. Two in five of the respondents said a provider had made them feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or ashamed about an unpaid bill. The average respondent had about $9,000 in medical debt. The average for uninsured people was significantly greater than for the insured, $10,020 vs. $6,720. Respondents also reported being denied mortgages, loans and employment because of medical debt. Fifteen people said they had filed for personal bankruptcy at least partly because of medical bills. Read the Access Project report. -- by Jeff Tieman and Julie Piotrowski