Medical debt increases the risks of eviction, food insecurity, and bad health outcomes regardless of insurance or income, a new study found, Axios reported.
While people who are uninsured or low-income are affected most by rising medical debt, even private insurance offers little protection against unaffordable bills, according to the study published in JAMA Open Network on Friday, Axios reported.
"Private insurance is a defective product. You pay for it and then when you get sick, there's co-payments, there's deductibles, there's out-of-network fees, there's things that aren't covered at all," said Steffie Woolhandler, a physician and public health professor at Hunter College who co-authored the study.
More than 100 million Americans live with medical debt, according to a study by Kaiser Health News and NPR. These people may be forced into delaying necessary care and sacrificing essentials like groceries. People in states that expanded Medicaid reported an average of $3,000 less in medical debt than those in states who hadn’t.
Medical debt was highest in the South and among lower-income communities in states without Medicaid expansion.
The average amount of medical debt in 2018 was $21,867, according to the researchers' analysis of the Census Bureau's Survey Income and Program Participation.
For those in poor health, the burden rose to nearly $43,000, while uninsured patients had an average debt of more than $38,000.
People with medical debt were two to three times more likely to be unable to pay rent or utilities and experience eviction than those without health care bills, according to the study.
Black and Latino people were more likely to have medical debt, which can affect credit and the ability to build wealth.
In April, the Biden administration announced a push to lessen the medical debt burden on Americans.
But this doesn't address the impact of not having national health insurance or expanding Medicaid and letting wages determine the level of benefits, said Wes Yin, an economics professor at UCLA who was a co-author of the Stanford study.
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