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More medical debt often means less medical care

When an individual's debt becomes overwhelming, everyday decision making can be affected by that reality. People struggling with debt may have less active social lives because they are trying to avoid spending money out on the town. College students may consciously try to eat every meal in the cafeteria in order to avoid food costs not associated with pre-paid meal plans. And, as a recent study confirms, people navigating debt challenges including medical bills and credit card debt are more likely to forego or delay necessary medical care.

The study was conducted by experts at the University of Michigan and recently published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. The authors of the study determined that it is urgent debt that affects an individual's response to seeking necessary medical care. Individuals with substantial mortgage or student loan debt that is not immediately due forego or delay necessary health care less often than those with urgent credit card and medical debt.

The study's author explained that because these more urgent debts tend to be generally unplanned for by consumers, they "may quickly accumulate beyond their ability to repay. 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."

A large survey that helped researchers to draw their conclusions confirms that individuals choosing to forego or delay medical care because of debt were far more likely to have outstanding and urgent medical bills in particular than those who choose to seek care regardless of their financial status. While this behavior is understandable on many levels, if individuals are struggling with debt so severely that they are foregoing necessary medical care, it might be better to file for bankruptcy and go to the doctor than to risk one's health and well-being in the long run.

Source: News Medical, "People with medical debt more likely to avoid medical care, finds new study," May 9, 2013

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