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Statistics show small improvement in medical debt

For some residents of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a single medical bill can spell disastrous financial results. Millions struggle to pay medical bills each year, but some current studies show that medical debt issues may have decreased slightly in the past year.

According to a study from NerdWallet, 10 million individuals will struggle to pay for basic necessities, such as food or heat, due to medical bills this year. The study also estimates that 56 million people in the U.S. who are under 65 years of age will struggle with medical bills this year.

Though many tout the Affordable Health care Act as offering better coverage and reducing the growing medical debt problem, the NerdWallet study indicated that around 10 million Americans struggled with medical debt despite having insurance coverage. A vice president from the company stated that medical bills can overwhelm a family when disaster or serious illness strikes, regardless of financial planning, savings, or insurance.

NerdWallet studies indicate that around 1.7 million Americans who declared bankruptcy in 2013 did so because of their medical bills. Even so, other statistics indicate that the problem of medical debt may have seen a slow decline in the past few years. Reports for the first half of 2011 indicate that 21.7 percent of individuals reported struggling with medical bills. For the same period in 2013, only 19.8 percent reported the same issue.

Some health issues are more likely to impact individual wallets, according to statistics. Chronic conditions drive the majority of health care spending. Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center say cancer patients are 2.5 times more likely to file for bankruptcy than non-cancer patients.

You can't plan for unexpected medical conditions, though you can build emergency funds into your budget. Insurance policies also provide some leverage during troublesome times, but if you're faced with overwhelming medical debt, there are relief options. Educating yourself on options is the first step to reducing financial stressors in your life.

Source: Healthline, "20 Percent of Americans Struggle to Pay Medical Bills" Brian Krans, Apr. 09, 2014

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