Kaiser Family Foundation
by Karen Pollitz Cynthia Cox, Kevin Lucia and Katie Keith
An estimated 1 in 3 Americans report having difficulty paying their medical bills – that is, they have had problems affording medical bills within the past year, or they are gradually paying past bills over time, or they have bills they can’t afford to pay at all. ￼Medical debt – and a host of related problems – can result when people can’t afford to pay their medical bills. While the chances of falling into medical debt are greater for people who are uninsured, most people who experience difficulty paying medical bills have health insurance. Medical debt can arise when people must pay out-of-pocket for care not covered by health insurance or to which cost-sharing (such as deductibles) applies. Medical debt might also result from health insurance premiums that individuals find difficult to afford. ￼ The consequences of medical debt can be severe. People with unaffordable medical bills report higher rates of other problems – including difficulty affording housing and other basic necessities, credit card debt, bankruptcy, and barriers accessing health care.
How does medical debt become a problem for people with health insurance?