Almost one in five Americans have a medical debt in the hands of collection agencies, according to a new report published Tuesday, which puts the total amount at 140,000 million dollars in 2018, an amount that is almost double that of a previous report based in 2016 data.
The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, notes that between 2009 and 2018, healthcare-related bills became the main source of debt managed by the nation’s collection agencies.
While, the overall debt of citizens was reduced in that period as a result of the recovery after the Great Recession.
The study looks only at medical debt that doctors and hospitals have transferred to collection agencies, so the numbers are far from representing the total that Americans owe.
Thus, debts that are the subject of legal processes, which are included in long-term payment plans or payments made with credit cards that patients must now reimburse to financial institutions are not taken into account.
The study, using reports from the credit rating agency TransUnion, estimates that about 18% of Americans have medical debts in the hands of collection agencies.
The average debt is 429 dollars (1,645,000 pesos), although the researchers highlight great differences from one state to another, especially among those who expanded the public Medicaid program in recent years (which covers people with fewer resources) and those who did not.
The difference is also large between the richest and poorest areas, with an average of $ 677 in the lowest-income ZIP codes analyzed and $ 126 in the wealthiest.
The study uses data from 2018, the most recent the researchers were able to obtain in full, so does not take into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.