The Growing Concern of Medical Bankruptcy

Having health insurance may not always be enough to ensure that Americans can afford their medical expenses. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) had a positive impact on the number of people who have health insurance but did not affect the yearly percentage of people who filed for bankruptcy due to medical issues. Bankruptcy effects an estimated 530,000 families in the United States each year, with approximately two-thirds citing medical issues as a key contributor to their financial problems. These factors may include the high cost of medical care or the time required to be off work due to a medical condition.

A 2020 Gallup and West Health survey showed that 50% of American adults are concerned that a household health event could lead to the need to file for bankruptcy. This is an increase of 5% in just one year. The percentage of non-white adults who are concerned about medical bankruptcy has increased from 52% to 64% during this same period. Individuals aged 18-29 expressed a 12% increased concern, and adults 30-49 expressed a 9% increase in reported concerns over the possibility of having to file for bankruptcy due to medical expenses in the same one-year period.

Individuals who file for bankruptcy are not the only ones struggling from rising medical costs. A survey conducted by Bankrate reported that 75% of all workers in the United States say they are living paycheck to paycheck. This limits their ability to save for unexpected medical expenses or other emergencies. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the medical debt crisis for those that are uninsured and individuals who have lost their jobs due to business closures.

A 2019 KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) Health Tracking Poll shows that 69% of Americans believe that reducing health care costs should be a priority for the president and Congress, second only to the economy. In the presidential election, differing health care coverage approaches allowing for expanded coverage was an important topic of discussion.  While the approaches to handling this growing issue may differ, pharmacists are perfectly positioned to help patients lower prescription drug costs.  Whether through evaluating product substitution alternatives, applying copay cards, or researching available patient assistance programs, pharmacists are the forefront.  A solution to minimize medical bankruptcy is not clear cut and will likely require cooperation among all industry stakeholders.


Posted November 2020

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