New Report Pegs Unpaid Medical Debts at $195B

About 9% of all adults in America — which represents about 23 million people — owe at least $250 in medical debt, according to the results of a report released yesterday by the Kaiser Family Foundation. In total, Americans owed $195 billion in unpaid medical debt as of 2019, according to the report, which looked at information from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation.

This total is higher than other estimates that have attempted to put a number on the amount of unpaid medical debt, because the other estimates tend to rely on data included on consumers’ credit reports, which would not include medical debts that were charged to a credit cared or included in other debts.

Individuals who are middle-aged or those who are African-American are the people who are most likely to have some amount of unpaid medical debt, according to the report. Twenty-three percent of people between the ages of 35 and 64 said they had what the report defines as a “significant” amount of unpaid medical debt ($250), compared with 8% of those between the ages of 18 and 34 and 6% of those between 65 and 79. Sixteen percent of African-Americans have a significant amount of medical debt, compared with 9% of Hispanics, 9% of Whites, and 4% of Asian-Americans.

Of the $195 billion that is owed in medical debt, 71% is attributable to the 13% of Americans who owe at least $10,000, and 12% is attributable to the 13% who owe between $5,000 and $10,000, according to the report.

“Medical debt remains a persistent problem even among people with insurance coverage,” according to the report. “Most Americans have private health insurance, which generally requires payment of a deductible, coinsurance, and copays for medical services and prescriptions. A serious injury or illness can cost thousands of dollars out-of-pocket to meet these deductibles and other cost-sharing requirements. For people with a chronic illness, even smaller copays and other cost-sharing expenses can accumulate to unaffordable amounts.”

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