Senior Citizens Among Those Most Affected by Medical Debt

By Consumers for Quality Care, on August 30, 2023

Senior Citizens Among Those Most Affected by Medical Debt

Although most seniors have health coverage through programs like Medicare and Medicaid, they are still collectively saddled with more than $50 million in unpaid medical debt, The Hill reports. These findings were included in a recently published report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

The report found that rather than working with their patients’ insurers, medical providers are sometimes charging senior citizens full price for medical services. When the bills don’t get paid, providers then send the bills to collection agencies.

In 2020, 98 percent of the 4 million elderly consumers who reported unpaid medical bills had insurance, according to the CFPB’s report.

While Medicaid is supposed to take care of those with limited means, low-income elderly consumers are often stuck with unpaid medical bills. The CFPB report even found that some healthcare companies were billing Medicaid consumers “for amounts they don’t owe.”

The study also uncovered occurrences where medical providers and collectors, rather than fixing a claim rejected due to an error, would instead use predatory debt collection practices to intimidate consumers. According to the report, “many of these errors likely are avoidable or fixable but only a fraction of rejected claims are adjusted and resubmitted.”

To fix these mistakes, consumers often have to spend hours on the phone talking with their medical provider, insurer, and debt collector. “It’s tiring to have multiple conversations, sitting on the phone for an hour, chasing representatives,” according to Genevieve Waterman with the National Council on Aging.

Collection practices for medical debt are especially troubling because they hurt vulnerable populations disproportionately, including senior citizens with government-run healthcare plans. CQC urges lawmakers to protect all consumers from predatory practices that only add to our nation’s medical debt crisis.