Medical debt disproportionately affects Black Americans: 4 things to know

Race plays a major role in who is burdened with medical debt, with 27.9 percent of Black households carrying medical debt compared to 17.2 percent of white non-Hispanic households, a March National Consumer Law Center report found.

"In recognition of the explicit role racism plays in medical debt and health disparities, advocates and leaders should take action to protect Black patients from unaffordable medical bills that trap families in a cycle of financial insecurity," Berneta Haynes, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center and author of the report, said in a March 14 news release.

Four things to know from the report:

1. Black people have worse outcomes in all areas of health, including healthcare access, healthcare quality and health outcomes. This is further exacerbated by medical debt. Those who struggle with medical debt often avoid, delay or skip medical care, according to the report.

2. More than 6 percent of Black households carry medical debt of more than 20 percent of their yearly income, compared to 4.4 percent of all households.

3. Medical debt widens the racial wealth gap because it prevents families from building wealth. Black families are disproportionately targeted by aggressive medical debt collection practices, such as wage garnishment and property liens. The medical debt damages credit scores, making it harder for Black Americans to get mortgage loans.

4. Charity care often falls short for Black Americans, who are more likely to be uninsured. Hospitals with less generous charity care requirements are often in states that have not expanded Medicaid, mostly in the South. Black Americans are more likely to live in nonexpansion states, according to the report.

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