Medical debt collection disproportionately affects Black Americans

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There is a burden of $140 billion in past-due medical bills shown on U.S. credit files, and 28 percent of Black households have medical debt compared to only 17 percent of white households, Bloomberg reported Nov. 22.

The debt also varies by location. States like Massachusetts, Minnesota and Washington have low medical debt levels and are more proportionate by race. But debt and racial disparities are much more common in the South, where many states haven't expanded eligibility for Medicaid, the article said.

Billing tactics like garnishing wages, charging high interest rates, putting liens on homes and suing patients are more common for people of color, but only bring in less than 1 percent of total revenue for hospitals, according to the article.

Black patients are also not always told about financial assistance. A poll by the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition found that less than half of African-American respondents were aware of hospitals providing free or low-cost care for low-income patients, compared to 79 percent of white respondents.

Advocates want tax-exempt hospitals to stop passing patients to debt collectors when they are eligible for financial help and be more transparent about the assistance they can receive, according to Bloomberg.

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