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What, me worry about medical debt?

For those of us who wonder if we are just borrowing trouble by worrying about medical debt, a recent survey says we are not the only ones who think about it. Bankrate.com has published the results of its monthly Health Insurance Pulse, and it seems that many of us are struggling with medical debt and more than half of us worry about it.

Bankrate found that 25 percent of the respondents owe more in medical bills than they have saved for emergencies. It's worse for people with incomes below $30,000 a year: 44 percent of those respondents have more medical debt than emergency savings. Even people without medical debt are worried about it: A total of 55 percent of respondents say they are "very worried" or "somewhat worried."

Health insurance could help to ease anxiety about medical debts, but respondents are worried about that too. The question is not whether there will be insurance but whether they will be able to afford the coverage: 55 percent of the respondents said they are concerned that they will not have affordable health insurance down the road.

Respondents may explain that their feelings of financial insecurity are, for the most part, related to health care, but an analyst at Bankrate says the anxiety may reflect a lack of consumer confidence about the economy in general. The concern about the affordability of health insurance prompted the analyst to speculate that the respondents may not completely understand the Affordable Care Act's health care exchanges or may not be convinced the ACA will make a difference.

The demographic breakdown of respondents shows a few interesting splits. For example, respondents between 30 and 64 years old -- that is, the people who are in their peak earning years -- are the most worried. Parents are more likely than nonparents to say their medical debt load exceeds their savings. And more women (60 percent) than men (50 percent) are worried about health insurance in the future.

Source: Insurance Journal, "25% of Americans Have Medical Debt; 55% Worried About It: Bankrate.com," Sept. 4, 2014

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