Medical Debt Is Crushing Many Americans

The Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act are making health insurance less accessible and will almost certainly increase the number of Americans struggling with medical debt.

Jenifer Bosco and John O’Brien report:

To collect these debts, health care providers and collection agencies sometimes use aggressive collection techniques, ranging from reporting the debt to credit reporting agencies to making frequent phone calls demanding repayment or even garnishing patients’ wages or filing liens on their homes.

Medical debt arises from many frustratingly common scenarios faced by low- and moderate-income patients. For instance, a woman goes to the emergency room after injuring her arm. An X-ray shows that it is broken. A doctor resets the bone and creates a cast. But she is later surprised to receive a hefty bill from the radiologist who read the X-ray for the full cost of interpreting the images. The hospital was within her health insurance network, the radiologist was not.

The ACA helped diminish medical debt in several ways. States that expanded Medicaid under the law saw a 40 percent drop in medical debt.

More from Bosco and O’Brien:

“As In its Model Medical Debt Collection Act, the National Consumer Law Center is proposing common-sense state law reforms that build on the financial assistance provisions in the ACA…These reforms will make it possible for low- and moderate-income patients to pay reasonable amounts toward their health care bills while protecting them from harassment by debt collectors.”