NU Online News Service, June 24, 2004, 1:14 p.m. EDT

Medical debt has contributed to a surge in Washington state bankruptcies.[@@]

State residents filed 39,818 personal bankruptcies in 2003, up from 14,448 bankruptcies in 1990, according to the Working for Health Coalition, Seattle.

The nonprofit group found medical debt was the main cause of 46% of personal bankruptcies in Washington state in 1999, up from 14% in 1991.

The majority of Washington state residents still have health coverage, but 60% of the adult residents who actually had medical bills or medical debt in 2003 were uninsured.

Workers in the coalition’s highest income category spend only 4.3% of their income on out-of-pocket health care expenses. Low-income workers spend about 17% of their income on health care expenses, the coalition says.

A family that wants to buy health coverage through Washington state’s individual market needs to earn about $44,000 per year, the coalition estimates.