More than 60% of individuals with unpaid medical bills have been contacted by a collection agency to recover those debts, according to a report released yesterday by the Urban Institute. The report also disclosed than about 15% of all non-elderly adults living in the United States are carrying some amount of past-due medical debt and two-thirds of those adults have incomes below 250% of the federal poverty line (currently $32,000 for a single adult).
Nearly three-quarters of those people with unpaid healthcare debts owe at least some money to the hospitals where they were treated. About 28% said they owe all of their debt to hospitals, while 45% said that owe money to hospitals and other healthcare providers.
About 39% of adults owe less than $1,000, while 21% owe at least $5,000, according to the report.
One out of 20 adults with healthcare debts have been sued by the creditor to recover the unpaid balance. Just under 4% of adults have had their wages garnished and 2% have had funds seized from their bank accounts.
More than 35% of individuals were able to work out a payment plan to repay their debt, while an additional 22% were offered discounted care.
Given the financial profiles of the majority of individuals with healthcare debt, “expanding access to free or discounted hospital care has the potential to help reduce risks of incurring medical debt,” the Urban Institute wrote in its report. States and the federal government should be working together to ensure that patients are screened for financial assistance before any collection activity begins, and hospitals should be required to provide refunds to individuals who should have qualified for charity care.
“High rates of medical debt underscore the challenges millions of families and adults—especially families and adults struggling to make ends meet—face trying to pay their medical bills,” said “High rates of medical debt underscore the challenges millions of families and adults—especially families and adults struggling to make ends meet—face trying to pay their medical bills,” said Gina Hijjawi, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in a statement. “We see that individuals with disabilities, and Black and Latino adults are disproportionately represented among adults carrying past-due medical debt. Consumers need standards in place that protect them from undue medical debt and help them obtain affordable care.”