Health Insurance Plans and Socioeconomics Among Factors Contributing to Medical Debt, Study Shows

By Consumers for Quality Care, on October 26, 2022

Health Insurance Plans and Socioeconomics Among Factors Contributing to Medical Debt, Study Shows

Consumers with either no health insurance or with high-deductible plans are more likely to be burdened with medical debt, according to Health Payer Intelligence.

Data compiled by the Census Bureau Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) found that around 11 percent of adult consumers have medical debt with an average amount of $2,306. The data also found that 12 percent of adult consumers with private high-deductible insurance plans reported medical debt, compared to 7 percent of consumers with military coverage and 7.5 percent of consumers on Medicare. Uninsured consumers were the largest group found to have medical debt, at around 15 percent.

The amount of medical debt for consumers on Medicaid plans fluctuated. Consumers residing in states that have not expanded Medicaid are 40 percent more likely to have medical debt compared to consumers in states that have expanded the program.

The researchers of the study stated, “The protective effect of military and Medicaid coverage – which carry minimal out-of-pocket costs – suggests the salience of comprehensive coverage, a point reinforced by our finding that Medicaid expansion was associated with lower rates of medical debt.”

The study also found that socioeconomic factors contribute to the propensity of medical debt. Data revealed that 52 percent of adults with food insecurity had medical debt, compared to 9 percent of consumers who were not faced with food challenges. In addition, 25 percent of consumers who reported not being able to pay their monthly mortgage or rent payments had medical debt, compared to 10 percent of consumers who did not have medical debt. 

The burden of medical debt remains a reality for more than 100 million Americans. Policymakers should ensure that insurance acts like insurance with premiums, deductibles, copays and coinsurance at levels low enough that patients don’t go into debt when seeking health care.