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Women face higher health cost burden

As total American debt continues to rise, a new report shows that women are at a higher risk for accruing large levels of medical debt. A growing problem that politicians in Washington, D.C., can't continue to avoid, the report indicated that more women were facing personal bankruptcy because of their medical bills compared to men. In addition, American women fare worse than female populations in other countries.

The report, issued in mid-July by the non-profit Commonwealth Fund, showed that 26 percent of American women have difficulty paying their medical bills. That is in sharp contrast to just 13 percent of women in Australia. Only 4 percent of German women face such financial woes.

Experts say that part of the problem is the catastrophe-only policies that have been sold to many young Americans. Those policies are rarely appropriate for women in their child-bearing years. These high-deductible policies require high payments in relation to women's income, which can easily lead to bankruptcy.

For example, a woman with a catastrophic insurance policy who is diagnosed with breast cancer could be responsible for tens of thousands of dollars for her treatment. One 31-year-old woman said she owed $70,000 after her treatment for the disease, which cost $200,000 total. This is particularly problematic for people who are under-employed but still working. The woman noted that if she had been unemployed she would have been covered by her state's Medicaid program.

Women use health services more frequently than men, according to the report, and they generally have lower income than men, so they are at higher risk of financial strife. Additionally, women are generally charged more than men for the same health insurance policies, primarily because they visit the doctor more often.

The report also shows that nearly 40 percent of women spent $1,000 or more on out-of-pocket on medical costs during the 2009 and 2010.

Source: NBC News, "Medical bills drive many U.S. women into debt, report finds," Maggie Fox, July 15, 2012

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