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Medical costs, not poor savings habits, most often lead to bankruptcy

THE GLOBE’S front-page story titled “Bankruptcies wane as US relearns how to save” (Aug. 18) suggests if we can get our spending under control bankruptcy rates will decline.

But the leading cause of personal bankruptcy is illness, not out-of-control spending. A 2009 Harvard study reported that 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies are caused by medical problems. One might assume those medical bankruptcies were caused by lack of health insurance. Not so, the study reports 78 percent of those whose illness caused a medical bankruptcy had health insurance when their illness began.

Should your readers be concerned about how vulnerable they, or a friend, neighbor, or family member might be to bankruptcy? The lead author of the Harvard study, David Himmelstein, said, “for middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection. Most of us have policies with so many loopholes, co-payments, and deductibles that illness can put you in the poorhouse.” He continued, “unless you’re Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy.”


No one is immune to illness, and to suggest bankruptcy will decline if we cut up our credit cards and reduce our spending seems an overly simplistic view when medical issues cause most bankruptcies.

Bruce Bower
Hollis, N.H.