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How Medical Debt is Affecting Americans and Who Is Taking Action to Lower It

The healthcare system in America is broken. Though 90% of Americans have some form of health insurance, many are forgoing doctor visits to save money on hefty copays. For those who have had no choice but to go to the doctor, many are facing huge amounts of medical debt.

Nearly 20 percent of households can not afford to pay for medical bills right away. The Kaiser and Peterson Foundations recently found that 23 million (almost 1 in 10 adults) have significant medical debt. In the United States, Americans owe a combined $195 billion in medical debt. Out of this $195 billion debt, 16 million Americans (6% of adults) owe more than $1,000 in medical debt, while 3 million (1% of adults) owe over $10,000.

Although medical debt affects everyone, people living with disabilities, people of color, and people living in Medicaid non-expansion states are more likely to have higher medical debt.

Stethoscope, pen, and calculator on top of billing statement

Racial disparities in Medical Debt

Black Americans have higher medical debt than any other racial or ethnic groups in the US. 16% of Black Americans have high medical debt, compared to 9% of White and 4% of Asian Americans. The data also shows that women are more likely to incur medical debt (11%) in comparison with men (8%).

Groups Forgiving Millions of Dollars in Medical Debt

Last year, Fair Fight, led by Stacey Abrams, paid off over $200 million in medical debt across the South. Fair Fight partnered with RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit organization, to wipe out $212 million in medical debt owed by 108,000 people in 5 states: Georgia, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The donation forgave the debt of nearly 69,000 people in Georgia, more than 27,000 people in Arizona, more than 8,000 people in Louisiana, and about 2,000 people in both Mississippi and Alabama.