1 in 5 households has medical debt, owing a median of $2,000

While more people in the U.S. have health insurance than ever—more than 90 percent—medical debt is a problem that has not gone away.

In fact, the reverse is true. Americans have more medical debt in collections—at least $140 billion—than all other types combined, according to a 2021 analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That’s up from the $81 million a different study found in 2016. And almost 1 in 5 households has medical debt, owing a median of $2,000, according to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau data.

For people with health insurance, high deductibles and copays are a main cause. Another: “The cost of health­care has risen dramatically in the last 10 years,” says Chuck Bell, senior policy analyst at Consumer Reports. “Every year, people have to reach deeper into their pockets to afford care, leaving many with big unpaid bills.”

One reflection of the problem is the high number of people reporting issues with medical debt to the Con­sumer Financial Protection Bureau’s complaint database. A Utah resident, for example, wrote that a growing stack of medical bills led to late mortgage payments; another, from Florida, said the debt hurt their credit score. “It was only when my health began failing and I began accruing medical bills that I started falling behind [on my] bills,” wrote a third, from Louisiana.

Continue reading at Consumer Reports


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