Survey Finds Half of Americans Fear a Major Health Event Could Lead to Bankruptcy


With election season intensifying, 35% of voters said drug pricing is among the most important issues influencing their vote in November.

In a 5% increase since 2019, a new West Health-Gallup US survey shows that 1 in 2 Americans worry that a major health event could lead to bankruptcy. The findings are especially concerning as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic continues.

This fear is even higher for minority groups and younger people, according to a press release. The survey found that 64% of people of color indicated they are extremely concerned or concerned about bankruptcy, a 12% increase since 2019. Similarly, 55% of adults between 18 and 29 years of age share these fears, which represents a 33% increase over last year.

“Rising health care costs continue to post a significant threat to millions of Americans and the pandemic has only mad the situation worse,” said Tim Lash, MBA, chief strategy officer at West Health, in a press release. “With so many Americans fearing they are but one health event away from bankruptcy, it’s more urgent than ever for policy makers to finally address the health care cost crisis before it gets even more out of control.”

Drug pricing is a major issue, with 35% of voters saying it is among the most important issues influencing their vote. The issue is especially important for non-White adults (48% vs 29% for White adults) and among those with less than $40,000 in annual household income.

“These latest findings illustrate the widespread extent of concern about how catastrophic health events can create financial ruin and the disproportionate impact felt by non-White Americans,” said Dan Witters, MS, research director of the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index, in a press release. “As election season intensifies, the lived experiences and priority that Americans place on health care cost issues will be very hard for candidates and leaders to ignore.”

Furthermore, 15% of adults said that at least 1 person in their household has medical debt that will not be repaid within the next 12 months, either in full or in part. This includes 12% of White adults and 20% of non-White adults and was highest among those with annual household incomes less than $40,000 per year.

Another 26% of Americans said they would need to borrow money to pay a $500 medical bill, a percentage growing to 43% of people of color and 46% of those in households with an annual income of less than $40,000.


1 in 2 Americans Fear a Major Health Event Could Lead to Bankruptcy [news release]. West Health; September 1, 2020. Accessed September 1, 2020.

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