41 is the White House number for today.
Its Health Reform by the Numbers site says that 41% of Americans under age 65 accumulated medical debt or had trouble paying medical bills in one recent 12-month period.
That figure came from a 2008 study by the Commonwealth Fund and the year in question was 2007. the percentage was up from 34% in 2005. That's 72 million people. Add in another 7 million people over age 65 who also had problems and the number comes to 79 million.
The study also says that because of these medical bills, 28 million adults used up all their savings, 21 million racked up huge credit card debt, and another 21 million were unable to pay for basic necessities.
I can't wait to find what the numbers are for 2008 and 2009.
The Commonwealth Fund is a private foundation that supports health care reform. So I'm open to info from groups with a different bias as well.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index says 21% of Americans struggled to pay their medical bills in December 2008, up from 18% in January 2008. But half the people who were uninsured couldn't pay their medical bills. All this is described in a USA Today article.
So presumably the other 20 percent in the Commonwealth study fell into the category of "accumulating medical debt" but were not having trouble paying it?
Regardless of which numbers are right, the Gallup folks do say that this is an enormous problem. According to the USA Today article:
"The biggest problem that the country has is actually the cost of health care," says Jim Clifton, Gallup's CEO.
The American Heart Association says that 56% of people with a heart condition, stroke or high blood pressure can't pay their bills.
Let me know if you have any better numbers.