NPR published a couple of articles earlier this month about medical debt in the United States. According to a survey published by the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than half of U.S. adults have gone into debt as a result of medical or dental costs in the last five years. A quarter of those who owe money for medical bills owe more than $5,000. And nearly one-fifth of those with any debt indicated they never expect to pay it off.
Medical debt also prevents Americans from saving for retirement, investing in their children’s education, or setting the traditional foundations for a secure future, such as financing for college or purchasing a home. According to the KFF poll, healthcare debt is nearly twice as common among those under 30 as it is among those 65 and older.
Even more troubling, medical debt prevents some people from getting the care that they need. According to the poll, around one in every seven persons who are in debt had been denied access to a hospital, doctor, or other provider due to outstanding charges. A larger percentage, around two-thirds, have put off medical care for themselves or a family member because of the cost.
For people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, it can be even more expensive to live. According to the National Disability Institute, researchers estimate that households containing an adult with a disability require, on average, 28 percent more income (or an additional $17,690 a year for a family at the median income level) to obtain the same standard of living as a comparable household without a member with a disability.
The Ward family from Chicago, IL was faced with more than $800,000 in debt after the premature birth of their twins who were later diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. Equipment such as wheelchairs, shower chairs, and patient lifts, which are frequently used by those with disabilities, can cost several thousand dollars and aren’t always covered by health insurance. Additionally, physical, occupational, and speech therapy are not always covered by insurance either.
Childbirth, chemotherapy, dialysis, and even a broken arm, can cause Americans financial hardship. Every day, Americans make life-or-death medical decisions. For some, these choices result in tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Nobody should be in debt because of medical care, but millions of Americans are. We need affordable healthcare for all Americans before this crisis because even worse.
Goodman, Nanette, et al. “The Extra Costs of Living with a Disability in the U.S. — Resetting the Policy Table.” National Disability Institute, National Disability Institute, Oct. 2020, http://www.nationaldisabilityinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/extra-costs-living-with-disability-brief.pdf.
Levey, Noam. “Sick and Struggling to Pay, 100 Million People in the U.S. Live with Medical Debt.” NPR, NPR, 16 June 2022, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/06/16/1104679219/medical-bills-debt-investigation.
Levey, Noam, and Aneri Pattani. “Medical Debt Upended Their Lives. Here’s What It Took from Them.” NPR, NPR, 16 June 2022, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/06/16/1104969627/medical-debt-upended-their-lives-heres-what-it-took-from-them.