Half of all personal bankruptcies in America "are caused by medical bills."
Hillary Clinton on Monday, September 17th, 2007 in a speech in Des Moines, Iowa.
A broad definition of "medical bills"
In making a pitch for her universal health care plan, Sen. Hillary Clinton cited the bankruptcy statistic to make the point that people suffer financially from not having health care coverage.
The statistic comes from a 2005 study published in Health Affairs, The Policy Journal of the Health Sphere . The problem with her statement is that she chose the biggest figure — half of personal bankruptcies — at the expense of precision.
In the study, only 28.3 percent of bankruptcies were attributed to "illness or injury" alone. In response to questions, 46.2 percent of people declaring bankruptcy cited illness or injury; unpaid medical bills; lost income due to illness; or the mortgage of a home to pay medical bills. Forty-six percent is closer, but still less than half.
The bankruptcy number only goes above 50 percent when the cause includes such things as gambling addiction, drug and alcohol addiction, the adoption of a child or the death of a family member. As serious as these issues may be, they are not what most people think of as "medical bills."