In an article called “The burden of medical debt in the United States” by Matthew Rae, Gary Claxton, Emma Wager, Cynthia Clark, Jared Ortaliza, and Krutika Amin, the results of a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) are noted. Per the article, a link to which is below, the following conclusion can be drawn:
“We find that 23 million people (nearly 1 in 10 adults) owe significant medical debt. The SIPP survey suggests people in the United States owe at least $195 billion in medical debt. Approximately 16 million people (6% of adults) in the U.S. owe over $1,000 in medical debt and 3 million people (1% of adults) owe medical debt of more than $10,000. Medical debt occurs across demographic groups. But, people with disabilities, those in worse health, and poor or near-poor adults are more likely to owe significant medical debt. We also find that Black Americans, and people living in the South or in Medicaid non-expansion states were more likely to have significant medical debt.”
Several years ago, I cited a study that noted medical debt was the number one reason for bankruptcy by individuals, so the above result is not a surprise. The groups that are most exposed are non-Hispanic Blacks at 16% and people in the age 50 to 64 demographic at 12%. Some of the reasons for this age group being higher is Medicare does not kick in until age 65, people are getting downsized in that group and employer retiree medical benefits have largely gone away.
I posted a piece from Politico the other day about rural health care suffering. An important reason is the fourteen states who have not expanded Medicaid to those below a certain poverty level. This has led to more rural hospitals closing and exposed people who do not have coverage to higher medical debt or forsaking care all together. The debt comes with people waiting until they are a train wreck before going to the ER, a more expensive place to get care.
One of the things I have found in my consulting experience as well as patient and care taking experience, access to health care is critical to a person’s health. The ability to get preventive care before the train wrecks also lowers the cost while improving one’s health. In the US, one of our warts is we are the most obese country in the world per the World Health Organization. We have supersized ourselves to earn that mantel. We must get ourselves on a better path before it becomes too late.
Access to care is key to getting on that better path, but making it a more affordable journey. When people say we have the best health care system in the world, that simply is not borne out by the data – we have the most expensive health care in the world; we rank in the low thirties in health care outcomes. We must use the system more wisely. All of us.