Pandemic Did Not Impact Amount of Medical Debt Carried by Consumers: Report

The COVID-19 pandemic that has spent more than two years ravaging its way across the United States has not had any impact on the amount of medical debt being carried by individuals, even though millions were hospitalized and countless others lost their jobs — and their health insurance, according to data that has been published in the JAMA Health Forum.

Looking at data between January 2018 and September 2021 — a randomly selected number of consumers who have credit reports maintained by TransUnion — the researchers combed through the reports of 37 million people. They concluded that “there was no statistically significant association between the percentage change in medical debt and the measures of pandemic severity.” By pandemic severity, the researchers meant infection and vaccination rates, unemployment rates, and consumer spending.

Downward trends in both the amount of medical and non-medical debt that were occurring before the pandemic hit continued afterwards, according to the research. While the amount of medical debt rose during the last half of 2020, when infection rates peaked, the amount declined during the first two quarters of 2021.

Looking at the data demographically, the researchers noted that the amount of medical debt declined for individuals across all income levels, suggesting that the declines were a result in the cancellation of many elective procedures and financial assistance policies put in place by healthcare providers during the pandemic.

The data published by the JAMA Health Forum coincides with data published by the Urban Institute last month that showed the number of individuals carrying unpaid medical debts markedly declined during the pandemic.

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