Medical Care a Financial Hardship for 1 in 4 US Families

Megan Brooks

January 28, 2014

In 2012, more than 1 in 4 families (26.8%) in the United States felt the financial burden of medical care, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, nearly 1 in 6 families (16.5%) had problems paying medical bills in the last 12 months, 1 in 10 (8.9%) had medical bills they were unable to pay at all (a subgroup of those having problems paying medical bills), and 1 in 5 (21.4%) were paying medical bills over time, according to a NCHS data brief released January 28.

Families with income at or below 250% of the federal poverty level had the highest levels of any financial burden of medical care, and families with children up to age 17 years were more apt to experience financial burdens of medical care than families without children.

Overall, 1 in 3 families (36.0%) with children reported financial burden of medical care. One in 4 families with 2 or more adults and no children (25.2%) experienced financial burden of medical care, as did 1 in 5 families (20.1%) with only 1 adult and no children (adults living alone).

The presence of a family member without health insurance increased the likelihood that a family would experience a financial burden of medical care, the data show.

The findings emerged in an analysis of data for 2012 from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). The survey included questions about financial burden of medical care and health insurance coverage. Information was collected for 43,345 families.

"Previous reports based on data from NHIS examined financial burdens of medical care from a person-level perspective," note the authors of the brief, Robin A. Cohen, PhD, and Whitney K. Kirzinger, MPH, from the NCHS. "One strength of NHIS is that information on insurance and financial burden is collected at the family level, giving analysts the ability to look at both family-level and person-level data. The family perspective is a useful expansion of previous research because having one family member who contributes to the bulk of the financial burden for medical care may place the entire family's ability to pay medical bills and overall financial well-being at risk," they explain.

"Financial Burden of Medical Care: A Family Perspective." NCHS Data Brief 142. Published online January 28, 2014. Full text

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