The U.S. Medical Debt Crisis: An Overview

The statistics behind the U.S. medical debt crisis are shocking. Even those with insurance are unable to pay their medical bills. There have been advances in healthcare policy, but these changes are not enough. Here are some of the most daunting facts about the medical debt crisis in America, all of which come from a Kaiser Family Foundation survey:

  • One in five insured Americans have had problems paying their medical bills.
  • Over half of uninsured Americans reported problems paying their medical bills.
  • Almost one-third of insured Americans took money out of savings accounts (for school, retirement, and long-term purposes) to pay for medical care. Among the uninsured, that number was 17%.
  • 62% of people reported that they were concerned that they would not be able to pay for their medical bills if they were to become seriously ill.
  • Over one-quarter of people reported that they skipped medical services (such as a test, treatment, or follow-up appointment) because they did not have the money to afford them.

A report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that over half of all debt on credit card bill can be attributed to medical debt.

These numbers capture at least part of the reality that many Americans face. The question of why these costs are so exorbitant is a little more difficult to answer. One major area is medical billing errors, for example. Auditing by Medicare revealed that half of all medical bills contained errors. Questioning discrepancies is important, but, all too often, patients have problems knowing what to look for. This is where patient advocacy comes in; healthcare experts trained in patient rights can help you find out where errors lie, reducing your costs.

Medical billing errors, however, are not the only reason that healthcare is so expensive. High administrative costs, different purchasing patterns (not buying drugs in bulk, for example) that result in poor leverage for patients, and high rates of open-heart surgery are just some of the many reasons healthcare is so costly.

The U.S. spends $3 trillion on healthcare each year. Consumer Reports stated the problem aptly when it pointed out that if the American healthcare industry was its own country, it would be the fifth-largest global economy. Despite this high spending, the U.S. still had a high infant mortality rate among developed countries. America also ranked fifth out of eleven for quality in this study, with the medical system doing an especially poor job at preventing deaths from treatable conditions.

America spends a lot of money, but has little to show for it in terms of real progress. It is the patients who are hurt the most, and Patronus seeks to help these consumers gain leverage in such a complicated system. While the healthcare industry is structured in a way that makes it disadvantageous to patients, there are experts and advocates who can help alleviate the burden. Battling against a flawed system is difficult, but not impossible.

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