Personal Finance

Report: More than 100 million adults are paying off medical bills

More than 70% of people reported having bills directly with hospitals, which typically means a substantial balance.

Surgical instruments are used during an organ transplant surgery at a hospital.
Molly Riley/AP

Medical debt is a burden for more than 100 million Americans.

According to a report from the Urban Institute, those Americans either have past-due bills or have elected to pay the balances off over time.

The study says more than 70% of people reported having bills directly from hospitals. Researchers say that's notable because hospital bills tend to be higher than bills for other services in the health care industry.

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More than half of the adults with past-due hospital bills reported that they've been contacted by a collection agency. However, only 5% said the hospital filed a lawsuit to collect the money. Even fewer said they've been subjected to garnished wages or having funds seized from their bank accounts. 

There are options for people who have medical debt. Many hospitals will offer a payment plan, and some will even negotiate a lower balance. The study notes that more than 20% of people reported receiving some kind of discounted care in which the hospital reduced the amount they owed. 

The researchers say the study highlights gaps in health insurance coverage, financial assistance policies, and government protections. They are asking for stakeholders to take a wide-ranging approach to reducing the burden of medical debut. That includes expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which was signed 13 years ago.

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