Sep 16, 2019 - Health

Medical costs are driving millions of people into poverty

Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

Health care expenses forced 8 million Americans into poverty in 2018, according to the Census Bureau.

The big picture: That's actually an improvement from the past several years, when an annual average of 11 million people fell into poverty because of medical costs — a reflection of the country's expensive system.

How it works: The Census Bureau tracks how various social programs and daily expenses influence poverty rates.

  • Social Security, SNAP benefits and housing subsidies are among the most effective anti-poverty programs.
  • But year after year, medical expenses remain "the largest contributor to increasing the number of individuals in poverty," according to the Census Bureau.
  • Most people who have insurance and who make less than 150% of the federal poverty level don't have enough liquid assets to cover a $1,500 deductible.

The bottom line: People who don't have insurance have the highest risk of falling into poverty, due to the high prices of drugs and procedures.

  • But even working Americans who have coverage are facing bleaker financial futures because employers have shifted more health care costs onto their shoulders.

Go deeper: Other developed countries limit out-of-pocket medical expenses

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