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Inflation Driving Up Medical Debt, Forcing Missed Doctor Visits

Two-thirds of Americans reported outstanding medical debt, while another third said their medical debt was in collection, a new survey shows.

Two-in-three Americans say medical bills are increasingly becoming a problem as inflation puts pressure on an expense few can afford to spare. Further, some are saying they are skipping doctors visits over the rising costs, a new survey said.

A survey from Debt.com shows that half of Americans reported outstanding medical bills or debt, with 67% saying that inflation made it harder to pay, an increase from 57% in the same poll taken last year. An additional 32% said their medical bills were in debt collection this year, above the 28% who identified this problem last year.1

Debt.com. “Inflation is Keeping Americans Sick and Adding to Their Medical Debt.”

While inflation has dropped off from its highs of June 2022, when prices were more than 9% higher than the prior year, it still hasn’t fallen to the 2% target that the Federal Reserve seeks to return to by raising interest rates. Prices in August were 3.7% higher than they were at this time last year, above the 3.2% inflation rate in July. 

Medical Debt Delaying Doctor’s Visits

Most medical debt is less than $1,000, according to the survey, but a third of the respondents said they owed more, with 15% owing up to $5,000 and a further 6% owing between $5,001 and $10,000. 

The survey also isolates another concerning trend with medical debt: More of it is accumulated through routine visits. While doctor’s visits made up 15% of debt compared with 25% from hospitalization in 2020, inflation has made going to the doctor more expensive; the 2023 survey showed that now doctor’s visits comprise 21% of debt versus 17% from hospital bills.

As a result, more than 34% said they avoided medical care because of debt, up from 28% last year, according to the survey conducted on Aug. 30 of 1,000 adults aged 18 and over throughout the U.S. 

“Medical debt doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s quite likely that doctor’s visits have become harder to pay because Americans have many other debts they’re juggling,” said Debt.com founder and chairperson Howard Dvorkin.2

Government Watchdog Proposes Credit Rules on Medical Debt

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), about one in five Americans reported having medical debt, with unpaid medical bills totaling around $88 billion on 43 million credit reports.3 

While the survey shows that medical debt is a growing problem, the CFPB is proposing a solution that may help ease worries for some with overdue medical bills. The government watchdog will push a new rule that would prohibit consumer credit reporting companies from considering medical debt in credit reports

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