Balancing Priorities

Many Americans are woefully unprepared for a surprise medical expense

As the country remains divided over a health-care overhaul, costs are rising, leaving most Americans one medical bill away from plunging into debt.

To that point, 74 percent of Americans said their health-care costs have gone up in the past few years — yet less than half of those in a recent survey leave room in their budget for medical expenses.

The survey by health-care information firm Amino polled more than 1,000 adults online in February.

More than one-third said they could not afford an unexpected medical bill for more than $100 (often less than the cost of a new patient office visit) without going into debt. Over 60 percent said receiving a medical bill they can't afford is worse than or equally as bad as being diagnosed with a serious illness.

Ideally, unexpected medical costs should be covered by a rainy-day fund. Although most financial advisors recommend keeping three to six months of expenses in an emergency fund, few have that kind of money stashed aside. In fact, 66 million U.S. adults have zero dollars saved for an emergency, according to a separate study.

Alternatively, contributions to a flexible spending account or health savings account could cover qualified medical expenses. But less than a third currently contribute to a health savings account that allows them to save money tax-free, the survey said.

Whether that will change under the GOP's health plan remains to be seen. The Republican health-care bill is President Donald Trump's first major legislative initiative and aims to fulfill his campaign pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare, the health-care program of his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

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