How Rampant Healthcare Debt Is Harming Americans

The United States healthcare system is broken in so many ways, consequently healthcare debt is adversely affecting vast numbers of people.

By Jennifer Hollohan | Published

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We have all experienced a time when we opened a medical bill, only to discover with horror that it was far more than we anticipated. Most often, it happens after a hospital visit or stay. But, even what feels like routine appointments can have lengthy hidden fees layered in. You are not alone in worrying about how you will pay medical bills. A recent news piece in NPR highlights that a shocking 100 million people in America have healthcare debt.

That number is concerning all on its own. To hear of many people bearing the burden of enormous healthcare debt is disheartening, to say the least. But the number of people who can empathize with looming medical bills is only a small piece of the story.

The larger story is how healthcare debt has devastated so many lives all over the country. No matter what walk of life you come from or which financial bracket, no one seems immune to the true cost of medical debt. NPR took time to interview individuals and families about their experiences, and what they found is heart-wrenching.

Many lost their homes because of healthcare debt. Others lost their savings or had to empty retirement accounts. And even more were left struggling to make ends meet, not knowing how they will feed and clothe their families.

Countless lives get ruined due to the healthcare debt they couldn’t break free from. But their stories also help shine a light on a very broken system. That system isn’t just hospitals and doctors’ offices. It also includes nursing homes, many of which make the news for their predatory and deceitful practices.

Lucille Brooks experienced their tactics firsthand. A nursing home where her brother stayed sued her out of the blue. Though she never signed anything agreeing to be financially responsible, the nursing home used a forged signature on the admission form as leverage in the suit. She joins the roughly 5% of adults who have dealt with a lawsuit over healthcare debt. And a whopping 1 in 7 adults has been threatened with arrest or lawsuit during collection attempts.

For others, receiving the news of a life-changing diagnosis now has the additional stress of medical bills. Many insurance plans require a significant amount in out-of-pocket deductibles before they will cover any treatments. And that is on top of often high monthly premiums. And, there are no guarantee providers will pay for critical services even when the patients meet their requirements. Since treatments and medication associated with cancer, diabetes, and lengthy hospital stays come with extremely high costs, the healthcare debt quickly grows.

The NPR news report on the impact healthcare debt has upon the American public is a vital step toward revamping a deeply broken system. Individuals and families should not have to choose between buying food or losing their homes and seeking critical medical care. Shining a light into the darkest corners of our healthcare industry will hopefully spark some rapid and drastic changes.