As of March 2022, more than half of insured U.S. adults had unpaid medical debt. For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic increased their already soaring health care bills, but not all groups have been impacted proportionately.
Nationwide Retirement Institute's recent survey on health care costs for Black Americans reveals that Black millennials carry more medical debt and are less likely to be insured than Black adults in any other age group. Nearly 1 in 5 (19%) Black millennials cite the burden of health care costs as a top-of-mind concern when thinking about retirement, and more than half (57%) report that medical debt holds them back financially.
Medical debt by age group
During the pandemic, Black Americans were more likely to experience coronavirus-related hospitalization or death than white Americans, and some Black households may still be recovering from the financial fallout.
According to Nationwide's survey, Black millennials owe more than four times as much medical debt as Black Gen Xers and more than ten times as much as baby boomers. Here's the average amount of medical debt each group says they owe:
- Millennials ($11,469)
- Gen Xers ($2,818)
- Baby boomers ($1,111)
How do these figures compare to the general population? Nationwide's survey did not make a comparison between adults from other demographic groups, but other studies reveal a disparity. A separate survey from February of this year found that only 23% of the U.S. adult population owed $10,000 or more in medical debt.
Black millennials have also fared worse in other ways, in comparison to older generations. They spent an average of $6,145 on health care and personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic, while Black Gen Xers ($613) and baby boomers ($269) spent less than a tenth of that amount. They're also slightly less likely than Gen Xers and far less likely than baby boomers to have health insurance.
On the upside, this group is far more likely to seek professional support with their finances. In this regard, 40% of Black millennials reported working with a financial professional, versus just 27% of Gen Xers and 19% of baby boomers.
How are Black millenials impacted?
Carrying significant medical debt weighs on Black millennials in a number of ways. Here's what they reported to Nationwide:
- 57% say their financial health has been impacted by the cost of health care
- 57% have been negatively impacted by financial stress
- 35% have skipped or delayed seeking care to save on medical expenses
Unfortunately, some of the side effects of medical debt can increase both the need for and cost of care. For example, the February 2022 survey found that 80% of people with medical debt reported forgoing health care services due to cost. At the same time, skipping preventative care resulted in needing more expensive care down the line, such as emergency room visits, which respondents in that survey said was their main cause of medical debt (44%).
Those who carry medical debt have to manage additional stress, which can also negatively impact their health. In a survey from Discover, respondents even expressed more anxiety over paying for medical debt (63%) than over improving their health (47%).
If you'd like assistance navigating medical debt or other types of debt, consider contacting a free, nonprofit credit counseling agency in your area.
Methodology: The Nationwide Retirement Institute Health Care survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll from Aug. 5-24, 2021. It included 1,817 U.S. adults and an oversample of 563 Black Americans (202 Black millennials, 178 Black Gen Xers, 183 Black baby boomers) ages 25 and over.
For the sake of this survey, generations were defined as follows: