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Explaining the Increase in Family Financial Pressures from Medical Bills Between 2003 and 2007

Do Affordability Thresholds Change Over Time?

Sept. 16, 2010
Medical Care Research and Review, OnlineFirst
Peter J. Cunningham

This study examines whether affordability thresholds for medical care as defined by families change over time. The results from two nationally representative surveys show that while financial stress from medical bills—defined as the percent with problems paying medical bills—increased between 2003 and 2007, greater out-ofpocket spending accounted for this increase only for higher-income persons with employer-sponsored insurance coverage. Increased spending did not account for an increase in medical bill problems among lower-income persons. Moreover, the increase in medical bill problems among low-income persons occurred at relatively low levels of out-of-pocket spending rather than at higher levels. The results suggest that “affordability thresholds” for medical care as defined by individuals and families are not stable over time, especially for lower-income persons, which has implications for setting affordability standards in health reform.

Access to this article is available at the Medical Care Research and Review Web site. (Subscription required.)





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The Center for Studying Health System Change Ceased operation on Dec. 31, 2013.