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Many Americans have been drowning in medical debt due to the U.S.’ lack of access to affordable health care. Now in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these debts are only expanding. A new study published in JAMA shows that in 2020, collection agencies held $140 billion in unpaid medical bills. In 2016, these numbers were fairly lower with Americans holding $81 billion in medical debt.
Using 10 percent of all credit reports from the credit rating agency TransUnion, the paper finds that about 18 percent of Americans hold medical debt that is in collections. This is unacceptable. (New York Times, 7-20-21)
Is the Affordable Care Act actually affordable if 18% of Americans have medical debt in collections?
In addition to those startling statistics, researchers found that between 2009 and 2020, unpaid medical bills were the largest source of debt Americans owed to collection agencies. (New York Times, 7-20-21)
However, the numbers stated above only include the amount of debts that were sold to collection agencies. They do not include the number of lawsuits hospitals file to collect debt from patients that are continuously piling up. They also don’t include the number of medical payment plans or credit card payments used to pay for medical expenses that many people are unable to pay off.
It has been shown through the years where Medicaid was expanded that this coverage directly reduces medical debt. Previous research demonstrated how Medicaid coverage can reduce medical debts. In certain states where Medicaid expansions were declined, Americans are swimming in significantly more debt than residents of states who did expand Medicaid (New York Times, 7-20-21). These patterns across the country show that we desperately need universal health care for all. By implementing programs that provide adequate medical care for all citizens, tremendous amounts of debt for many U.S. citizens will be eliminated.
The time to act is now.
Read New York Times Article on Medical Debts
Medical Debt in US 2009-2020 Report by JAMA Network
2016 U.S. Medical Debt Study
New York Times Article on Hospital Lawsuits
New York Times Article on How Obama Care Seemed to Reduce Medical Debt