Americans in Debt by $88 Million to Pay for Healthcare

Health Insurance

August 27, 2019

Americans in Debt by $88 Million to Pay for Healthcare

Americans borrowed as much as $88 billion to pay for their healthcare in 2018, a figure that comes from a survey conducted by Gallup and West Health, a non-profit agency. Not only are Americans going into debt to pay for healthcare, many are skipping treatments because of the cost and almost 50 percent of those surveyed fear a health emergency will send them into bankruptcy.

Quality of Care

One of the questions asked on the survey was about the quality of healthcare in the United States. Of the Republicans who responded, 67 percent believed that healthcare in the U.S. was among the best in the world while only 38 percent of Democrats felt that way. This indicates a clear partisan divide over how the healthcare system is working in this country.

Deferring Care

There was no partisan response as to whether respondents had put off treatment due to the cost, however. According to the survey, 27 percent of Democrats, 21 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of Independents had chosen to delay treatment because they could not afford the cost. The responses also indicated that the majority of those who answered were pessimistic about whether legislators could come up with a way to reduce health costs. In fact, about 70 percent of all those who answered were not confident in their elected officials and 77 percent believed that rising healthcare costs could impact the economy.

Some Report Satisfaction

Despite general pessimism regarding legislators, 64 percent of the people surveyed were satisfied with healthcare experiences, but surprisingly, only 39 percent felt that the system was serving Americans well overall. This indicates that although the respondents themselves felt that they received good care, they believed that a large number of Americans were not receiving good care. Responses also clearly indicated that high healthcare costs were creating anxiety in households across the country.

Bankruptcy Concerns

Bankruptcy was a big concern among the people surveyed. Even those making more than $180,000 per year were concerned that a major health crisis could lead to bankruptcy. There’s a good deal of debate about how much medical costs contribute to bankruptcy filings. 

In 2005, Senator Elizabeth Warren (then a Harvard law professor), Dr. David Himmelstein and Dr. Steffie Woolhandler (physicians), and Deborah Thorne (a sociologist) published an article that claimed more than 40 percent of bankruptcies were caused by medical costs. In 2009, they updated their research to indicate the number had risen to 62 percent. The paper propelled Warren’s political career, but many economists questions the research results. 

The paper relied on nearly 1,800 Americans who had filed bankruptcy and interviews were interviewed after the fact. The methods used to include medical costs as a reason for bankruptcy have been questioned, leading many to believe medical costs do not cause as many bankruptcies as initially indicated. Regardless of the controversy over the estimates, both high and low-income earners worry that a medical emergency could cause them significant financial difficulty.

Overall, 12 percent of those who responded to the Gallup poll reported borrowing money to pay for medical costs. Among people with health insurance, 11 percent borrowed money for medical care because they needed to pay high deductibles and cover other out-of-pocket expenses before their coverage would pick up any costs.