Medical bills or medical-related reasons caused about half of U.S. personal bankruptcies in 2001, according to a report on Health Affairs' Web site. Researchers found a major medical cause in 46.2% of a sampling of 1,771 family bankruptcy filings in 2001, confirmed by follow-up interviews in 931 cases. The proportion of medical-related bankruptcies rose to 55% when such things as alcohol, drug addiction or uncontrolled gambling were included. Some 75.7% of debtors in medical-related bankruptcies were insured at the time of their illness. Of the uninsured debtors, 55.9% said premiums were unaffordable and 7.1% had a pre-existing medical condition; only 2.9% elected to go without insurance. The research was conducted by David Himmelstein, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, and his wife, Steffie Woolhandler, also an associate professor at the school, both of whom have advocated universal healthcare. Elizabeth Warren, a professor at Harvard Law School, and Deborah Thorne, an assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at Ohio University, also worked on the project.
Some 27% of the 1,771 debtors blamed their bankruptcies on uncovered medical bills of more than $1,000 that were older than two years. Other reasons were illness or injury (28.3%); the loss of at least two weeks of work by debtor or spouse because of illness or injury (21.3%); and a home mortgage for medical bills (2%). Debtors could list multiple causes. Read the report. -- by Paul Barr