Half of uninsured people face problems with their medical bills: 9 survey findings

One in five working-age Americans with insurance encountered problems paying medical bills in the past year, which often led to serious financial challenges and changes in employment and lifestyle, according to a comprehensive Kaiser Family Foundation/New York Times survey. Among the uninsured, half (53 percent) reported problems with medical bills.

The survey was conducted from Aug. 28 through Sept. 28, 2015, among a national probability-based sample of 2,575 adults ages 18-64, including 1,204 who reported problems paying medical bills and 1,371 who did not.  

Here are nine survey findings.

1. Among those facing problems with medical bills, almost identical shares of the insured (44 percent) and uninsured (45 percent) said the bills had a major impact on their families.

2. People with insurance who faced problems with medical bills also reported various consequences and sacrifices during the past year as a result, including delaying vacations or major household purchases (77 percent), spending less on food, clothing and basic household items (75 percent), using up most or all their savings (63 percent), taking an extra job or working more hours (42 percent), increasing their credit card debt (38 percent), borrowing money from family or friends (37 percent), changing their living situation (14 percent) and seeking the aid of a charity (11 percent).

3. Insured people who had problems with medical bills also skipped or put off other healthcare in the past year because of the cost, the survey found. This included postponing dental care (62 percent), skipping physician-recommended tests or treatments (43 percent), or not filling a prescription (41 percent).

4. Of insured individuals who reported problems with medical bills, 26 percent received unexpected claim denials; and 32 percent received care from an out-of-network provider their insurance wouldn't cover.

5. Among those with private insurance, those in higher deductible plans were more likely to report medical bill problems than those in plans with lower deductibles (26 percent compared to 15 percent).

6. Sixty-one of people with medical bill problems found it difficult to pay other bills due to their medical debt, and more than 35 percent encountered difficulties paying for basic necessities like food, heat or housing, according to the survey.

7. Almost six in ten of those who reported problems paying medical bills (58 percent) have been contacted by a collection agency in the past year.

8. Among those with medical bill problems, 31 percent said the total reached at least $5,000, including 13 percent who said the total reached at least $10,000.

9. People who have had difficulty paying medical bills are more likely to report taking various extra steps to negotiate prices or shop around for healthcare than their peers, the survey found. However, for those with medical bill problems, 69 percent of those who shopped around for a lower price said it was difficult to find out how much they would have to pay, and a similar share (67 percent) of those who attempted to negotiate price with a provider said their efforts were unsuccessful.


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