The Rising Tide of Medical Debt in the United States: Causes and Consequences

by | May 9, 2023 | Financial Wellness

Medical debt is a persistent and growing problem in the United States, affecting millions of people each year. According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 11% of Americans have medical debt, and this number is likely to rise in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Medical debt can have a profound impact on individuals and families, leading to financial instability, reduced access to care, and increased stress and anxiety. In this article, we will explore the causes and consequences of medical debt in the United States and examine some potential solutions to this complex issue.

The Causes of Medical Debt

There are many reasons why individuals and families may accrue medical debt, including the high cost of care, lack of insurance coverage, and unexpected medical emergencies. According to a report from Advize Health, medical debt can often be traced back to a lack of transparency and communication within the healthcare system. Patients may not fully understand their insurance coverage or the cost of their care, leading to surprise bills and unexpected expenses. In addition, the high cost of prescription drugs and medical procedures can also contribute to the problem of medical debt, especially for those who are uninsured or underinsured.

Another factor contributing to medical debt is the high cost of living in the United States. Many Americans struggle to make ends meet, with housing, transportation, and food costs taking up a significant portion of their income. When unexpected medical expenses arise, they can quickly become unmanageable, leading to missed payments, collections, and other financial consequences.

The Consequences of Medical Debt

Medical debt can have a wide range of negative consequences for individuals and families, including reduced access to care, financial instability, and increased stress and anxiety. According to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, individuals with medical debt were more likely to delay or skip necessary medical care due to cost concerns. This can lead to more serious health problems down the road, as well as increased healthcare costs over time.

In addition, medical debt can also impact an individual’s financial stability and credit score. Late or missed payments can lead to collections, judgments, and other negative credit consequences, making it harder to obtain loans, credit cards, and other forms of financing. This can create a cycle of debt and financial instability that can be difficult to escape.

Finally, medical debt can also have a significant impact on an individual’s mental and emotional well-being. The stress and anxiety of dealing with medical bills and debt can be overwhelming, leading to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.

Potential Solutions

There is no easy solution to the problem of medical debt in the United States, but there are several potential strategies that could help to address the issue. One approach is to increase transparency and communication within the healthcare system, making it easier for patients to understand the cost of their care and their insurance coverage. This could include better education and outreach to patients, as well as more clear and concise billing statements.

Another potential solution is to reduce the cost of healthcare overall, through measures such as price controls on prescription drugs and medical procedures. This could help to make care more affordable and accessible for everyone, regardless of their insurance status or income level. Finally, policymakers could also consider more comprehensive healthcare reforms, such as a single-payer healthcare system or a public option. These approaches could help to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable, high-quality healthcare, without the burden of medical debt.

Medical debt is a complex and multifaceted issue that affects millions of Americans each year. It can have a profound impact on an individual’s financial stability, access to care, and mental and emotional well-being. By addressing the underlying causes of medical debt and exploring potential solutions, we can work towards a healthcare system that is affordable for everyone.

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