One in Six Americans Had Medical Debt Go to Collections, Survey Shows

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It can’t be considered positive news, but in the first two years of healthcare reform the number of Americans burdened by medical debt held steady after eight years of growth.

The Commonwealth Fund released its biennial survey of health insurance trends and found that the problem of healthcare, at least when it comes to health insurance coverage or the lack thereof, did not become bigger between 2010 and 2012, but that lack of insurance, underinsurance, and medical debt continued to be big challenges to a large percentage of Americans.

More than 40 percent of American adults ages 19 to 64 that were surveyed “reported problems paying their medical bills or said they were paying off medical debt over time,” according to the study. “Of those who reported difficulties paying medical bills or paying off medical debt, 42 percent said they received a lower credit rating as result of unpaid medical bills.” These figures were “statistically unchanged” between 2010 and 2012.

While healthcare providers the lack of growth is an indication that may mean uncompensated care will not increase as much as in previous years. The authors of the study attribute the flat results to young adults who became insured under their parents’ health insurance plans as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). However the gains from that population group were offset by growth in the number of reported problems paying medical debt by the rest of the adult population.

The Commonwealth Fund, a major cheerleader organization for the ACA, claims that a white knight is approaching in the form of the mandatory health insurance requirement that begins on Jan. 1, 2014. The report’s authors believe this will reduce the number of self-pays and under-insured.

In 2012, almost one in six Americans reported that their medical debt had been sent to a collection agency, the survey found. One in four Americans reported that in 2012 they had to pay off medical debt over time, and of which 25 percent owed more than $4,000 and 16 percent owed more than $8,000.

Other results from the Commonwealth Fund survey include:

The share of young adults without insurance declined between 2010 and 2012;

Nearly half of adults either spent time without coverage or were underinsured in 2012;

Lower-income adults are uninsured and underinsured at higher rates;

Costs prevent many Americans from getting needed healthcare.

The entire report can be downloaded here.

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Posted in Medical Receivables, Patient Experience, Patient Financial Services .

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