Medical debt in the US: 11 numbers to know

Medical debt plagues many Americans, was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and disproportionately affects people of color, according to studies, surveys and articles Becker's has reported on since November. Here are 11 numbers to know about medical debt in the U.S.

1. Three in four Americans owe more than $2,000 in medical debt, a Dec. 8 survey by Discover Personal Loans found.

2. Eight in 10 Americans with existing medical debt from that survey said they chose to delay medical care because of the costs. Thirty-seven percent have had to skip paying other bills because of debt.

3. Also in the Discover Personal Loans survey, 53 percent of those with existing medical debt said they have had to take on additional medical debt during the COVID-19 pandemic.

4. Sixty-three percent of respondents in that survey said they are anxious about paying for medical debt, while 47 percent are concerned about their health improving.

5. A survey by TransUnion Healthcare found that 35 percent of patients with outstanding medical bills deferred care in the last year because of unpaid debt.

6. Medical debt collection especially hurts Black Americans. Twenty-eight percent of Black households have medical debt, Bloomberg reported Nov. 22. Seventeen percent of white households have medical debt. Americans' past-due medical bills on U.S. credit files add up to $140 billion.

7. Only less than 1 percent of total revenue is brought in to hospitals through billing tactics such as garnishing wages, charging high interest rates, putting liens on homes and suing patients, Bloomberg also reported. But these tactics are more commonly used against people of color.

8. Black patients aren't always informed about financial assistance, according to Bloomberg. A Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition poll found that less than half of Black respondents were aware of hospitals providing free or low-cost care for low-income patients. This compares with 79 percent of white respondents.

9. In Wisconsin, hospital lawsuits for unpaid medical bills increased by 37 percent from 2001-18, a Dec. 6 Health Affairs essay found.

10. The Wisconsin study also discovered that per 1,000 Black residents, there were 1.86 lawsuits for unpaid medical bills in 2018, compared with 1.32 per 1,000 white residents.

11. RIP Medical Debt has recently partnered with six organizations to help erase medical debt. The charity has assisted in relieving more than $5.5 billion in debt, according to its website. For every $1 donation, $100 is relieved.

 

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