Survey: Even With Insurance, Americans Struggle to Afford Health Care

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Health care is an unaffordable necessity for many Americans. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, people grappled with the cost of adequate care.

With a second wave of the virus looming, U.S. News polled nearly 1,500 consumers about how they manage medical costs and whether they’ve found themselves saddled with medical debts.

Serious medical debt for some can lead to bankruptcy or delayed treatments or prescriptions when money dries up.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • Nearly 39% of respondents had serious trouble managing medical bills, with at least one bill sent to collections. Almost 7% have been sued for medical debt.
  • Nearly 6% declared bankruptcy because of medical bills.
  • Inadequate insurance coverage can fuel medical debt. Even with insurance, Americans can amass medical bills that lead to debt. Only 27% of respondents with medical debt were uninsured; 61% were underinsured with a high-deductible plan.
  • Health care costs can change how consumers manage their care. About 44% of respondents have postponed seeing a doctor. Other cost-related changes to care: trying home remedies, declining treatments, or delaying or skipping prescriptions.
  • Paying for medical care can eclipse basic expenses, major purchases and vacations – some people even dip into savings or retirement accounts to manage costs. Almost half of respondents said they’ve had to cut expenses because of medical debt.
  • More than half of respondents said they have used a credit card to pay for medical bills.
  • Taking out a loan to pay medical debt is less common than using a credit card, although interest rates on loans could be lower than credit cards. About 23% of respondents said they have used a loan to cover medical bills.
  • Negotiation is possible: Many respondents said they were able to work out payment plans or discounts. Although negotiation was unsuccessful for about 20% of respondents, 35% said they worked out a payment plan and 11% secured a discount.
  • Checking bills could also offer savings. Among respondents, 28% said they have found and corrected mistakes on medical bills.

What Are Your Options When You Can’t Pay Medical Bills?

Medical debt can feel like an impossible situation. Delaying or avoiding medical care can be dangerous, but medical bills can be hazardous to your finances. What can you do?

First, manage expenses and take advantage of any assistance available to you. Then, consider the best way to pay for what you owe.

  • Ask your doctor about cost-saving options.
  • Check bills for errors.
  • Negotiate a payment plan or ask for a discount.
  • Apply for financial assistance.

Some consumers take out personal loans to pay for medical bills. For many, a personal loan is the safest, most affordable choice. Using a credit card to cover medical expenses can lead to high-interest debt if you can’t afford to pay your balance each month.

A personal loan can also be a safer choice than a 401(k) loan, which would raid your retirement funds, or a home equity loan, which puts your house at risk if you can’t keep up with monthly payments.

If you’re crushed by medical debt, consider working with a credit counselor. Bankruptcy may provide relief if you run out of options. It will damage your credit rating in the short term, but some medical debt can be discharged under bankruptcy. This could offer a way out if you’re stuck choosing between your health and your finances.

  • U.S. News ran a nationwide survey in October 2020.
  • The survey sample came from the general American population, and the survey was configured to be representative of this sample.
  • The survey was screened to include consumers who said they’ve struggled to pay a medical bill.
  • The survey asked 10 questions related to medical debt.



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