Study finds small link between hospitalizations and patient bankruptcies

Bankruptcy is still an issue facing some hospital patients, according to a study published in New England Journal of Medicine.

For the study, researchers examined credit reports of more than 500,000 people hospitalized at a California facility between 2003 and 2007, according to Newsweek.

The study found a small link between hospitalization and bankruptcy. Hospitalization was associated with approximately 4 percent of bankruptcies between 2002 and 2011, reports Newsweek. The rate among uninsured people was 6 percent.

"Rates of medical bankruptcy are much, much lower than we had thought and has been claimed," Amy Finkelstein, a health economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the paper's authors, told Newsweek.

Ms. Finkelstein argues bankruptcy isn't the only patient financial issue the healthcare industry should look at. She believes policymakers should take into account patients' employment status and earnings, since many people face additional costs from missing work due to sickness, and may not be able to secure disability or employment insurance.

A different study published in 2009 in the American Journal of Medicine found 62.1 percent of bankruptcies in 2007 were due to medical expenses. Researchers asked bankruptcy filers in 2007 about why they filed, and considered the bankruptcy "medical" based on their reasons, as well as their income loss due to illness and the amount of their medical debts.

David Himmelstein, MD, a professor at Hunter College's School of Urban Public Health in New York City, told Newsweek he believes his study's approach provides a more overarching view of medical bankruptcy because Ms. Finkelstein's study "only count[s] you as having been ill if you were hospitalized [once over three years]. But we know that a huge number of people who were ill were not hospitalized."


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