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The burden of medical debt in the United States

Despite over 90% of the U.S. population having some form of health insurance, medical debt remains a significant issue. Even minor unexpected medical expenses can be unaffordable for families with limited assets, and people with substantial medical needs often see debt accumulate over time. High deductibles and cost-sharing requirements contribute to medical debt, leading individuals to cut spending on essentials, deplete savings, borrow money, or incur additional debt. Click here for article.

  • Prevalence and Impact of Medical Debt: 20 million adults in the U.S. owe medical debt, totaling at least $220 billion. Medical debt disproportionately affects those in poor health, with disabilities, and lower-income individuals. People with significant health needs often face accumulating medical bills, leading to higher levels of debt.

  • Demographic Disparities: Black Americans and women are more likely to report having medical debt compared to other racial groups and men, respectively. The prevalence of medical debt is higher among adults aged 50-64 but decreases for those over 65 due to Medicare coverage.

  • Geographic and Economic Factors: Adults in rural areas and the South are more likely to report medical debt. Low- and middle-income adults and those without consistent insurance coverage are at higher risk of incurring medical debt.

  • Financial and Social Consequences: Medical debt leads to reduced spending on essential items, depletion of savings, increased borrowing, and additional financial stress. Many insured individuals still struggle with medical debt due to high out-of-pocket costs and insufficient savings to cover unexpected medical expenses.

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