The inability to pay some or all of one’s medical bills can be one of the most distressing situations people face. When the ever-increasing cost of medical care is paired with the fact that people have little control over the type of care they need, it creates a situation where patients either have to forgo needed medical attention or promise to pay bills they may not be able to afford. A new survey, the National Health Interview Survey, indicates that as many as 32 percent of non-elderly people in the nation may be in this situation.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the survey was created to determine how widespread the issue of unpaid medical bills is in the U.S. Patients were asked if they had problems paying medical bills in the past 12 months, paying them off over time, or if they were unable to pay their medical bills at all. 20 percent indicated they faced difficulty paying in the past year, while 26 percent were facing difficulty paying bills they had been paying on for an extended period of time. Eleven percent were unable to pay any medical bills at all.

While the poor and near poor were most likely to face this difficulty, the problem spans different incomes, employment situations and family statuses. Furthermore, the study found that the majority, or 54 percent of patients, who had difficulty paying their medical bills were people with employer-sponsored private insurance plans, followed by the uninsured at 30 percent.

CNBC also reports that a different Kaiser study indicated that part of the problem is that only 48 percent of families have the liquid assets to cover their out-of-pocket costs and deductibles each year. These fees can total on average $3,000 per person and $6,000 per family. For those who cannot immediately pay these bills, prolonged repayment plans and bankruptcy are often the only two options.