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Medical bills hurt at every age

By Jay MacDonald ·
Friday, July 13, 2012
Posted: 10 am ET

When we think of Americans who struggle with medical bills, the first image that often comes to mind is a fragile senior watching helplessly as costly drugs and clinical procedures devour their life savings.

But new data from the National Center for Health Statistics finds that kids younger than 17 are the most likely to be living in a family that is struggling with medical bills.

The feds found that 1 in 4 kids (24 percent) live in a family that had difficulty paying its medical bills in the past year, versus 1 in 10 seniors age 65 to 74.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 4 in 10 American families (39 percent) with kids younger than 17 reported that medical expenses forced them to either pay bills over time or not pay them at all.

It's not the kids who are stretching the family health care budget, however – it's their parents.

An analysis of insurance coverage by the Carsey Institute found that 92 percent of children under 18 had health insurance in 2010, 36 percent under public plans. As for their parents, well, not so much.

"Kids' coverage is much better than adults," says NCHS researcher Shana Alex Lavarreda. She notes that parents with younger children may be uninsured or have insurance that requires out-of-pocket co-pays. The money bind comes when everyday expenses such as childcare, food and clothing leave little left over to pay for those unexpected doctor visits.

By contrast, senior citizens have more health issues, and thus more medical bills, but they also tend to have more resources, including Medicare, with which to pay for doctor visits and prescription drugs.

Middle-age Americans struggle as well. A recent report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 1 in 5 Americans age 50 and older scrimp on health care by skipping doctor visits and parsing or dropping costly prescriptions to save money.

How are you faring in the battle to balance your health and your wealth? Have you cut back on medication or skipped a trip to the doctor to save money?

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