Public medical debt is a uniquely American problem. About 40% of American adults have at least $250 in medical debt, according to a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“The history of medical debt is a history of changing the answer to this question: If the patient cannot pay the bill, who will?” said Dr. Luke Messac, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is writing a book about the history of medical debt.
As health care costs have risen over the past fifty years, patients have been asked to pay more out of pocket for care.
“Once you have this system where the patient pays directly, the insurance company pays a portion,” he said. Dr. Peter Kongstvedt, a senior associate of health policy at George Mason University. “That gives you constant pressure on prices, because if you’re going to get paid, why not pay more?”
In the early 2000s, federal legislation led to major restructuring of the way insurance costs are shared, with the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act spurring the expansion of health insurance plans. .
The deductible is the amount that the policyholder must pay upfront before starting their health insurance policy. in 2022 it will be about $1,760which is double in 2006 when adjusted for inflation.
About 70% of adults have low income said they could not afford a $500 unexpected medical bill. Almost a quarter of those in households with an income of at least $90,000 also said they could not afford it.
“It doesn’t take a Nobel Prize in economics to realize that most people can’t afford a $500 bill, and that the average deductible on a health plan someone gets at work is north of $1,500 right now, that’s going to create a problem,” said Noam Levey, senior reporter for Kaiser Health News. “You can’t walk into an emergency room or a hospital in this country and usually walk out for less than a thousand dollars.”
Watch the video above to learn more about how widespread medical debt is in the US health care system and what we can do to change it.