15 facts about medical debt

Written by:
February 12, 2020
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15 facts about medical debt

Health care costs and medical debt have been a hot topic on the 2020 campaign trail, with some candidates proposing plans to eliminate all American medical debt.

Wonder why it’s such a hot topic? One reason is that many Americans have medical debt, and they have suffered devastating consequences because of it. Many people have had to cut back on food and declare bankruptcy because of their crippling medical debt.

And medical debt can impact just about anyone in America. Many people who have otherwise no outstanding debts on their credit reports have medical debt. And insurance is no panacea either. Americans with insurance still can have medical debt, with the average debt falling in the five-figure range.

Also troubling is the number of Americans who defer or delay care because of the projected or quoted costs. A significant number of Americans say that they have delayed scheduling a doctor’s appointment to check up on a troubling symptom, neglected to fill a prescription, or delayed getting a procedure because they believe or have been told the costs are too high.

Part of the reason for these levels of debt is that medical costs have been growing in the United States. And they don’t look set to decrease in cost soon. In fact, under current law, medical debt is projected to grow over 5% every year until 2027, when it is projected to hit $6 trillion in expenditures.

Using a combination of news reports, consumer reports, and medical surveys and studies, Stacker compiled a list of 15 facts about medical debt that challenge the basic assumption on which the American health insurance and medical care industries are predicated: that those with insurance can afford medical care.

Click through for a look at 15 surprising facts about medical debt in the United States that might help explain why it has become such a buzzword on the campaign trail.

Medical debt impacts even those with no other debt

Medical debt can happen to anyone. According to a report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, over half of Americans with no other debts on their credit reports have medical debt.

A quarter of Americans have trouble paying medical bills

According to a 2016 survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation and The New York Times, a fourth of Americans have had a hard time paying medical bills. Most of those who have such issues report making either just enough income to cover their basic expenses or just enough plus a little extra.

Hospital stays can come with big bills

One of the most expensive bills Americans face can come from a stay in the hospital. The American Journal of Medicine reported that almost half of Americans who have declared medical debt bankruptcy did so after requiring time in a hospital.

American costs of care are relatively high

The cost of receiving care in the United States is high compared to much of the rest of the world. For example, a hospital stay in the United States costs an average of $5,220 per day, compared to $795 in Australia.

20% of Americans have medical debt on their credit reports

Medical debt is impacting Americans’ credit reports. According to a report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, about 19.5% of Americans have medical debt on their credit records.

Cost concerns delay care

Fear of high medical costs and debt can delay treatment. A New York Times and Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that nearly one in three Americans delayed receiving care because they were concerned about what the bill might be.

A majority find comparison shopping very stressful

People are typically encouraged to comparison shop to make sure they are getting the lowest prices possible. But a joint research effort by The New York Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation discovered that 69% of Americans who tried to comparison shop for health care and medical procedures found the process somewhat difficult or very difficult.

1.7 million medical bankruptcies

Medical debt can be so bad that it causes well over a million Americans to declare bankruptcy. According to NationalDebtRelief.com, 1.7 million Americans will be forced to file for bankruptcy due to medical debt.

Medical health expenditures are spiraling

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, medical costs are growing across categories, including prescription drug prices, out-of-pocket spending, and hospital expenditures.

Insurance doesn’t prohibit medical debt

Even those with insurance can end up with significant medical debt. According to NationalDebtRelief.com, the average debt load for those with insurance is $17,794, compared to $26,971 for those without insurance.

Dental expenses can trigger medical debt

Dental expenses were responsible for a significant amount of medical debt. According to NationalDebtRelief.com, 57% of households with medical debt from out-of-pocket expenses cited dental expenses are a partial or full portion of their debt.

Costs are projected to continue climbing

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, medical costs aren’t projected to come down anytime soon. Under current law, it is estimated that national health spending will grow 5.5% per year until 2027 when expenditures will reach $6 trillion per year.

DIY often replaces medical supervision

Some Americans are turning to over-the-counter or home remedies instead of going to see doctors because of the high cost of medical care. The Kaiser Family Foundation and The New York Times found that 40% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 have relied on a do-it-yourself approach to healthcare instead of a doctor’s visit because of the cost.

People aren’t filling their full prescriptions

Medical debt prohibits some people from filling their prescriptions. According to NationalDebtRelief.com, 33% of Americans who have medical debt have delayed filling a prescription or never filled it at all.

Many people cut back on food to pay medical debt

According to a report from SingleCare, Americans have tried several ways to pay their medical debt. Among these are the 70% of Americans who say they have had to cut back on food, clothing, or other essential household items to pay their medical debts.

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