The Myth of Medical Debt

The idea that more than half of all bankruptcies are caused by medical debt comes from a study by Harvard associate professors David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, published on the Web in February 2005 by the journal Health Affairs. Both Himmelstein and Woolhandler have long advocated creating a single-payer system of national health insurance in the United States. The purpose of their study was to convince middle-class voters that they need socialized medicine to truly be secure from health-related financial catastrophe.

When the article came out it generated much controversy because the authors used a very broad definition of medical-related bankruptcy. In response, Health Affairs published more than 30 letters to the editor – as well as a follow-up study by researchers critical of the Himmelstein-Woolhandler study's methodology.

Fortunately, a new study by Aparna Mathur surveys the literature and puts matters straight. Dr. Mathur, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, found that only about one-quarter of bankruptcy filers have debts that are primarily medical in nature. Far more common are bankruptcies related to credit card debts.

Read the complete AEI Study.

Comments (4)

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  1. Matthew Holt says:

    Only a quarter! Wow. Then that can’t possibly matter, can it!

  2. neimon says:

    Your argument is flawed. A working theory does not conclusively prove that a study result is biased.

    Perceived bias does not equal academic dishonesty. Objectivity is part of the deal.

  3. Bob says:

    I think the undisputed fact that we have a real health care affordability crisis in America is in no small part related to bankruptcies. Who knows how those credit cards were used and for what purpose? Perhaps to pay a doctor!

  4. Dolly Williams says:

    Dolly Williams Good work.