Medical Costs May Trigger Fewer Bankruptcies Than Thought: Study

Medical bills may not cause as many bankruptcies in the United States as previously thought, according to a new study.

Researchers looked at more than half a million adults under age 65 in California who were hospitalized between 2003 and 2007 (childbirth-related hospital stays were not included) and found that hospitalizations were linked with only about 4 percent of personal bankruptcies among the patients, the Associated Press reported.

The study was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Previous research has suggested that medical costs are behind more than 60 percent of U.S. bankruptcies, the AP reported.

The new study included a wider range of people than earlier studies, which looked at people who already had filed for bankruptcy protection, the researchers noted.

"What causes bankruptcies is still somewhat unknown, but it appears that medical expenses are responsible for a much smaller share of them than previously thought," said study co-author Raymond Kluender of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the AP reported.

He noted that the new study was limited in that it only looked at adult patients from one state who were hospitalized, and that hospital stays often are the first in a "chain of struggles with medical expenses and medical debt."

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