The Faces and Stories of America’s Medical Debt Crisis 

By Consumers for Quality Care, on January 3, 2024

The Faces and Stories of America’s Medical Debt Crisis 

A partnership between KFF Health News and NPR called “Diagnosis: Debt” is highlighting deeply personal stories of medical debt, a crisis that wreaks havoc on 100 million Americans.  

Sharon Woodward, 61, of Winchester, Virginia, is one of these Americans. In her mid-40s, she developed rheumatoid arthritis that left her in pain and affected her daily life. As a result, she had to leave her job as a well-paid contract medical technician. 

It doesn’t matter how much money you make, because it can be taken away from you. If you get sick, medical bills are going to come,” she stated.  

Woodward went from earning $80,000 per year to living on a friend’s couch, as her medical debt rose to $20,000. This was in large part because of the cost of the $1,800-per-month medication used to treat her condition. 

Woodward has since been able to maintain a job that has allowed her to start making payments on her medical debt. She said, “I have the opportunity to finally get in front of all of this and get some semblance of a life back. Now I’m finally at the point where I will be able to start making payments, it’s a relief.” 

She concluded by saying, “I was doing really well, and then this happened and it devastated me with everything. People say… to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, go to school, get a good job. I did all of that. I did that, and I still ended up with nothing.”  

Of the 100 million Americans with medical debt, nearly 20 percent of them do not believe they will ever be able to completely pay off their debt.  

CQC applauds Sharon Woodward for sharing her deeply personal story and continues to raise awareness about medical debt in America and how it hurts consumers and society. CQC urges lawmakers and the Biden administration to address the root causes of medical debt and protect consumers.