It’s the dreaded number that appears on every patient’s medical bill in a section entitled “patient responsibility”: the amount you owe to your provider for health care services received. In photos posted on Damn Cool Pictures, American patients shared their astronomical bills, illustrating how medical procedures can financially cripple the uninsured and underinsured.

A report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in June 2013 found that one in five Americans has trouble paying their medical bills. That’s more than 54 million Americans. The report found that 20.3 percent of people under the age of 65 couldn’t pay their medical bills in the first half of 2012. The people who had the hardest time paying their bills were those who were uninsured, had public coverage (like Medicaid), or families with children. "Females were more likely than males to have been in a family having problems paying medical bills in both halves of 2011," the authors wrote. "However, in the first six months of 2012, there was no significant difference between females and males who were in a family having problems paying medical bills."

Hefty medical bills can lead patients to go to extreme measures to pay down their debt, to the point where there are specialized medical credit cards enabling them to cover expenses. But those credit cards can lead to a quagmire of debt later on, with high interest rates and penalty fees. Some patients, contending that they were never properly informed of the potential pitfalls of opening a medical credit card, even sue lending companies for deceiving them into accruing a huge amount of medical debt. “One missed payment can really ruin a patient’s life,” Cameron P. Kmet, a chiropractor practicing in Alaska, told The New York Times.

The photos below illustrate that a short medical stay, even for delivering a baby, can cost families huge amounts of money in the long run. Take a look:

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