People with medical debt more likely to avoid medical care, finds new study

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People with outstanding credit card or medical debt were more likely to delay or avoid medical or dental care, finds a new study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Other debts, such as having student loans, housing loans or car loans were not associated with forgoing care.

Study author Lucie Kalousova, Ph.D., of the department of sociology at the University of Michigan speculated that some debts usually thought of as "good" debts, such as student loans, have traditionally been a signal of creditworthiness, and probably do not influence decisions to consume needed medical care.

"Other debts generally thought of as 'bad' debts, such as credit card debt, may have been less planned for some people and may quickly accumulate beyond their ability to repay," she added. "Holders of such debts may be more pressured to repay them to avoid interest and stress, and they may forego medical care to save money under this kind of pressure, even if they really need it."

For the study, the researchers interviewed 914 state residents about their debt, including credit card balances, home loans, medical debt and student loans, and asked whether they had foregone medical or dental care because of their debt in the past 12 months.

Survey results found that most participants carried some form of debt and that having credit card debt and medical debt was associated with forgoing medical care. Those forgoing care were much more likely to have medical debt than those not forgoing care (58 vs. 20 percent) and had more of it ($8,889 vs. $2,783). Respondents who put off needed health care also had lower net worth and lower household income and were more likely to be uninsured than those who did not.

David Auerbach, Ph.D., a health economist at RAND Corporation suggests that there are signs that people in these situations may soon see improvement.

"The number of Americans with health insurance is going to increase quite a lot starting January 2014 with the Affordable Care Act and my sense is that the economy is on the upswing, though slowly," he explained. "The ACA will cover preventive care with no cost-sharing. And while many of the newly insured in the exchanges will be on plans with somewhat high co-payments and deductibles, it will an improvement over being uninsured entirely."


Journal of Health and Social Behavior


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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