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Medical debt in America today: The news isn’t good

On Behalf of | Dec 17, 2021 | Medical Debt

Glance at the headlines on any given day in the United States, and you’ll probably see something about the growing medical debt burden carried by the average citizen.

Back in 2020, it was estimated that Americans owed a combined total of roughly $81 billion in unpaid medical bills. New estimates put the figure closer to $140 billion – at minimum.

Medical debt is driving many households into financial crisis

Unpaid medical debts are now the number one reason many families are struggling with debt collections, and they outpace all other forms of unpaid debts (including credit cards) combined.

The worst part of this news is that the medical debt burden is unevenly distributed, with the largest share going to people of color. Recent census data indicates that 28% of Black households, on average, have unpaid medical debts, while only 17% of white households have the same problem.

Experts say that the blame falls partially on state governments – many of them in conservative parts of the country – to restrict Medicaid benefits from families that are poor but not “poor enough” to qualify for coverage. (States that have expanded Medicaid benefits have seen medical debts among their residents decline over the years.) The rest of the blame may be tied to a combination of the problems with privatized medical resources and a maze of insurance programs that limit coverage in inscrutable ways.

Medical bills can send a family into a vicious spiral where the debts continue to pile up and the creditors just won’t stop calling. If your family’s debt has become a crisis, it’s time to find out more about your options for relief. Bankruptcy is one possible path forward.


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