Medical Debt Comes With Other Financial Stress Forms

Americans with medical debt are significantly more likely to show other signs of financial vulnerability, including having no “rainy day fund” and carrying a credit card balance.

In 2021, one in four United States adults had one or more unpaid and past-due bills from a medical service provider. When the definition is broadened to include health care debt on credit cards or owed to family members, 41% of American adults report having medical debt, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) survey.

A new analysis by the KFF reveals that 68% of people with medical debt have no “rainy day fund,” and 72% carry a credit card balance, compared with 37% of those who are debt-free.

Fifty-eight percent of people with medical debt say “just getting by” describes them very well or completely, compared to 28% of people without debt.

Individuals who owe medical debt are significantly more likely to report their household occasionally overdrawing checking accounts, as well as using a pawn shop or short-term payday loan.

Although adults without health insurance are more likely to have medical debt, more than one in five adults with health insurance across the financial spectrum owe medical debt.

People with medical debt are often forced to delay or forgo medical care, which may exacerbate existing medical conditions, increase mortality, or result in even higher medical bills in the future.

Fifty-nine percent of people with medical debt reported having a medical problem but not going to a doctor or clinic, skipping a medical test or treatment recommended by a doctor, or not filling a prescription for medicine due to cost, compared to 17% among those without debt.

Medical debt puts a considerable strain on finances, resulting in delayed medical care and worsening health conditions.


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