56% of Insured Adults Are Carrying Medical Debt

56% of Insured Adults Are Carrying Medical Debt

Emergency room bills are the main cause
people in hospital waiting room

The cost of healthcare is a financial burden that impacts millions of Americans. For nearly half of U.S. adults, concerns over losing their medical coverage prevents them from retiring — but even for those with employer-sponsored coverage, medical costs can be astronomical.

A February survey from medical insurance information platform AffordableHealthInsurance.com looked at how much medical debt adults in America are carrying. According to the results, the figures are nearly the same for those who are insured as those who aren’t. For both groups, owing medical debt deeply impacts their personal and financial lives, causing them to put off such goals as buying homes, saving for retirement and even applying for new jobs, for fear of having their credit reviewed.

The cost of delayed care

In a 2021 survey, 44% of adults reported that the cost of medical checkups is a deterrent to getting care. But roughly 80% of people with medical debt said they were skipping out on healthcare services due to cost. In that survey, respondents reported foregoing everything from x-rays (26%) and doctor-recommended treatment plans (24%) to surgeries (27%) and specialist visits (24%).

Unfortunately, skipping preventative or early-stage care can result in bigger bills. Many people also seek emergency care when other, more affordable options would better suit their needs, such as telehealth services or a doctor visit.

Here's what respondents say is the main cause of their debt:

  • Emergency room visits (44%)
  • Hospitalization (36%)
  • COVID-19 treatment (33%)
  • Diagnostic tests (30%)
  • Specialist doctors/care (30%)
  • Ambulance (23%)

Of those in debt for medical services, 23% say they owe more than $10,000 and 11% owe more than $50,000. In contrast, 38% of U.S. households earned less than $50,000 in 2020.

Reducing the cost of care

In the AffordableHealthInsurance.com survey, 17% of survey respondents report that they're not currently paying their medical debt. While this may be their only option, skipping the bill can eventually lead to further financial burdens and stress, including debt collection issues, damaged credit and even wage garnishment.

Instead of avoiding the bill, or paying it off with high interest debt ⁠— like a credit card or payday loan ⁠— recipients can consider alternative ways to get financial help with medical debt:

  • Reach out to the medical billing department to correct billing errors and negotiate a lower bill
  • Ask how you can set up an interest-free payment plan
  • See if you can apply for charity care, or a cost reduction based on a financial hardship
  • Offer to pay a small, monthly amount, or make a settlement, to prevent the bill from going to collections
  • Look into local programs to assist with the bill

For non-emergencies, it's also advised that you opt for telehealth appointments or doctor visits rather than high-cost services like visiting the emergency room.

Methodology: This survey was commissioned by AffordableHealthInsurance.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,250 American adults ages 18 and older were surveyed on Feb. 18-19, 2022.