Half of Americans fear a major health event could lead to bankruptcy

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Half of Americans harbor concerns that a major health event could lead to bankruptcy, according to a new poll from Gallup.

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The data, based on a new study by West Health and Gallup, reflects an increase from 45% of Americans who feared being crippled by medical bills in early 2019 prior to when the coronavirus pandemic had gripped the world.

CORONAVIRUS PATIENTS COULD FACE HEFTY HOSPITAL BILLS EVEN WITH INSURANCE

Over the past year, concerns among adults aged 18-29 and 30-49 rose 12 percentage points and nine percentage points, respectively, according to the survey. Now, 55% of both age groups admit to being "extremely concerned or concerned" that a health event would leave them in a financially precarious position. Roughly 49% of men fear going bankrupt, matching concerns among women at 51%.

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Amid rising concerns over bankruptcy, 15% of adults say they have at least one person in their household suffering from medical debt that will not be fully repaid within the next 12 months.

THE COST OF CORONAVIRUS TREATMENT

The concern is higher for households that earn less than $40,000 per year. Those households, according to the poll, are four times as likely to carry long-term medical debt compared to households earning $100,000 or more.

Regardless, the substantial percentages of adults who reported that they currently have medical debt that they cannot pay in a year or less now have to resort to borrowing money to foot the bills.

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In fact, 26% report they would need to borrow money just to pay a $500 medical bill. In doing so, 12% say they would use a credit card or get a loan from a financial institution. About 14% would borrow from a family member or friend.

While some may be able to promptly pay off the expense when the credit card bills come at the end of the month, for others, "it is likely to feed into a cycle of accumulating medical debt that cannot be readily repaid," Gallup said.

However, with rising cases of COVID-19 sweeping the U.S., these concerns may continue to rise. Evidence from federal health officials has shown that for most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For others, however, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can lead to more severe illnesses, including pneumonia and even death.

The Gallup study is based on 1,007 interviews with U.S. adults conducted from July 1-24, 2020.

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