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NerdWallet Health: As 11M Latinos struggle with medical bills, more affected by medical bankruptcy

Aug. 26, 2013
Health, Managing Medical Bills
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Less than half of the Latino population was fully insured throughout 2012, making Latinos the least insured racial group in America. A NerdWallet study also finds that Latinos are 14% more likely to struggle with medicals bills than is the average American. To save money, millions of Latinos may be skipping or rationing their medications and avoiding potentially life saving preventative care for diseases like cancer.

Medical bills are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in America today. We found that the filing rate of personal bankruptcy among Latinos has increased by roughly 50% over the last several years. To further understand how the cost of healthcare affects Latinos, NerdWallet Health has compiled a series of estimates highlighting the strain of medical bills in 2013.

Summary Findings

We estimate for 2013:

  • Close to one in four Latinos will struggle to pay their medical bills. 

– Nearly 11M Latinos under age 65 (23.1%) are living in families having problems paying medical bills.

– Latinos are 14% more likely than the average American and 24% more likely than Caucasian Americans to struggle to pay medical bills.

  • Latinos are the least likely ethnic group to have health insurance.

– Nearly 28M Latinos will be uninsured at some point during the year (51% of Latino population). This makes them the largest group of uninsured Americans and the least likely to be fully insured among all major ethnic groups.

  • Uninsured Latinos will miss crucial opportunities to get preventative screens for cancer; to save money, many will not take prescriptions as directed. 

– Uninsured people are far less likely to get preventative screens than are insured people. If Latinos were to become as insured as the average American, then nearly 2M additional screening tests would be performed. Collectively, Latinas 21-64 would receive almost 820,000 more pap smears each year; 1M additional Latinas 40-64 would have mammograms; and over 158,000 more Latino men 50-64 would undergo colon screenings.

– To save money in 2013, 4M Latino adults 18-64 will not take medicine as prescribed, instead using cost savings strategies like skipping doses, taking less medicine, or delaying filling a prescription.

  • Medical bankruptcy will affect roughly 190,000 Latinos.

– Latinos represent 16.3% of the population but only 8.68% of people declaring bankruptcy in 2010. However, that number increased by roughly 50% from a rate of 6.5% in 2006, suggesting Latinos were particularly hard hit by the economic crisis.

– 330,370 people live in Latino households that will declare bankruptcy in 2013. Of these, NerdWallet estimates 188,641 people live in households for whom the primary cause of bankruptcy is unpaid medical bills.


Roughly half of Latinos living in America have been uninsured in the last year. “Seeing a doctor can be an expensive and stressful event for the nearly 28M Latinos who are uninsured or underinsured in 2013,” says Christina LaMontagne, VP of Health at NerdWallet. She went on to say that, “Latino families are significantly more likely to struggle with their medical bills than are Caucasian Americans, and we see the rate of medical bankruptcy increasing for the Latino population.”

“To save money, many Latinos skip preventative medical appointments and prescription treatments – which can lead to higher costs in the future.” Preventative screenings and doctors’ visits are designed to find disease before it becomes chronic and life threatening. Says LaMontagne, “we estimate that an additional 1M Latinas would get mammograms each year if they had full health insurance. Catching a disease early not only leads to better recovery rates, but can also avoid the high cost of advanced hospital care. “

Methodology & Sources

Baseline estimate of US population in 2013: We estimated the population based on US census data for the Latino population in 2012 and increased the figure for 2013 based on historical growth rates.

Americans (adults & children) struggling with medical bills: There is significant variation in estimates offered by the US government, non-profits and think-tanks. We used the most conservative, government provided statistics released this month from the Center for Disease Control.

Insurance rates: We relied on the Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey (2012) for insurance rates by racial group. The definition of “uninsured at some point during the past year” includes individuals who either reported that they were “not insured” or “insured now, time uninsured in the past year” at the time the survey was conducted.

Behavior data (use of preventative screens): We used a 2013 Commonwealth Fund report that provided percentage estimates of affected adults by racial group and applied these figures to our base affected population numbers.

Prescription drug use: Here we used Center for Disease Control data from 2011 and scaled them to 2013 population figures.

Bankruptcy: We relied on a widely cited Harvard study published in 2009. NerdWallet Health chose to include only bankruptcy explicitly tied to medical bills, excluding indirect reasons like lost work opportunities. Thus we conservatively estimated medical bankruptcy rates to be 57.1% (versus the authors’ 62.1%) of US bankruptcies. We also used official bankruptcy statistics, released this month through March 2013, from US Courts. Breakdowns by racial group were available through the Center for Disease Control.

About NerdWallet Health

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