The number of consumers who have had a medical debt sent to a collection agency has increased in 2023 compared with last year, and more than one-third of consumers owe at least $1,000, according to the results of a survey released this week by Debt.com.
Nearly half of all consumers have outstanding medical bills or medical debt, up from 46% a year ago, and 32% have had a debt placed with a collection agency, compared with 28% last year. Inflation, according to consumers, is making it harder to pay their medical bills than it was a year ago.
Rather than try to figure out a solution to their medical debt problems, most consumers opt to forego trips to the doctor or the emergency room to avoid racking up more medical debt. The percentage of consumers who are avoiding medical care because of debt rose to 34% in 2023, from 28% in 2022.
The source of medical debts is also changing. In 2020, visits to the hospital were the most frequent cause of consumers incurring medical debt. In 2023, it’s trips to the doctor’s office.
Overall, the amount of medical debt owed by consumers does appear to be shrinking, according to the survey. FIfty-six percent of consumers reported owed less than $500, compared with 20% who owed that amount in 2020. The amount that owed between $1,000 and $5,000 decreased to 15% in 2023, from 34% in 2020.
“Medical debt doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” said Howard Dvorkin, the founder of Debt.com. “It’s quite likely that doctor’s visits have become harder to pay because Americans have many other debts they’re juggling. Credit card balances are approaching levels not seen in decades, and student loans aren’t getting any smaller. Add in regular checkups, and it’s a cumulative and pervasive problem.”