60-Second Science

Illness Behind Most Bankruptcies

A study in The American Journal of Medicine finds that in 2007 more than 62 percent of all bankruptcies were driven by medical costs, a number that has likely gone up since the recession began. And most of the bankrupted had health insurance. Steve Mirsky reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Remember the heady days of 2007, before the large economy sized recession? Well, even back then medical problems contributed to over 62 percent of all bankruptcies. That’s according to a study by researchers at Harvard Med, Harvard Law and Ohio University just published online and scheduled for the August issue of The American Journal of Medicine. The authors note that with the recession, the 62 percent figure has likely gone up even more. 

David Himmelstein, the lead author of the study said, "Our findings are frightening. Unless you're Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy.” He also noted that “private health insurance is a defective product, akin to an umbrella that melts in the rain."

And co-author Steffie Woolhandler, said, "We need to rethink health reform. Covering the uninsured isn't enough. Reform also needs to help families who already have insurance by upgrading their coverage and assuring that they never lose it. Reforms that expand phony insurance—stripped-down plans riddled with co-payments, deductibles and exclusions—won't stem the rising tide of medical bankruptcy."

—Steve Mirsky

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