Report Breaks Down Who is Carrying Unpaid Medical Debts

The number of individuals across the country with past-due medical debts has remained the same since 2015, despite an increase in cost-sharing with employers, according to research that was published by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

The Data: Roughly 22% of adults had a past-due medical debt in 2021, compared with 23% in 2018 and 21% in 2015. But that figure may be under-reported by consumers, who are less likely to report they have past-due medical debts. While medical debt is the most common credit account listed on consumers’ credit reports, consumers were far less likely to disclose medical debts they owed.

  • While 22% of adults said they had a past-due medical debt, 23% said they had a student loan, 29% said they had an auto loan, 31% said they had a mortgage or home equity loan, 32% said they used non-bank borrowing in the past five years, and 33% said they carried a credit card balance.

Insured, Not Insured … Doesn’t Matter: One-quarter of adults with health insurance had a past-due medical debt, and 35% of those without insurance had one, too, according to the data. One-fifth of people living in an Medicaid expansion state were carrying unpaid medical debts in 2021.

Individuals with past-due debts were more likely to report that

  • their income varied month-to-month
  • they experience a large, unexpected drop in income in the past year
  • they had a very bad, bad, or average credit score

and less likely to report that

  • they had an emergency fund
  • they were saving for their child’s college education
  • they would be able to come up with $2,000 within a month if an unexpected expense arose

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