The Big Problem of US Consumer Medical Debt

Data: Commonwealth Fund; Note: The study defines “medical bill problems” as difficulty paying medical bills, being contacted by a collection agency for unpaid bills, having to change lifestyle in order to paying medical bills and/or having an unpaid medical debt. MOE ± 1.7 percentage points at 95% confidence; Graphic: Madison Dong/Axios Visuals

According to a biennial report by The Commonwealth Fund.

Why is this important: This is the latest proof that insurance coverage alone cannot protect people against soaring medical costs, leaving some facing long-term financial consequences.

By the numbers: In the survey, based on responses from more than 6,000 people between March and July 2022, nearly half (49%) of respondents said they would be unable to pay an unexpected $1,000 medical bill within 30 days.

  • About 2 in 5 people who said they had trouble paying off their medical debt reported issues such as a lowered credit score, credit card debt, or depleted savings.
  • Nearly one in 10 people had taken out a mortgage on their home or gotten a loan to pay off their medical debt.

The big picture: As we’ve already reported, Americans owe debt collectors more for medical debt than any other type of debt.

The bottom line: Without a change in policy, the problem is likely to get worse as inflation pushes up costs, including premiums and deductibles, said Sara Collins, lead author of the study.

  • Additionally, the impending expiration of the COVID public health emergency could prompt states to redetermine Medicaid enrollees’ eligibility and cause nearly 16 million people to lose coverage.


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John A. Bogar