43 Million Americans Have Unpaid Medical Bills

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According to a new study from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), 42.9 million Americans have unpaid medical bills. It is unclear how much this contributes to high health care costs.

In specific, the CFPB experts report:

Since September 2013, debt collection has been the top complaint at the CFPB. Among all debt types, medical debt tops the list. When a debt is past due, a collector may report the account to a credit agency. This would appear as an account in collection, often resulting in a credit score drop.

A staggering 52 percent of all collection accounts on credit reports are medical. An estimated 43 million consumers with a credit report at a nationwide consumer reporting agency have one or more medical accounts in collection. Here’s how you can keep medical debt in check.

The next categories by the same measure are at cable/cellular at 8% and utilities and retail at just above 7%.

The CFPB offers two explanation regarding medical bills:

Medical billing is complicated and confusing. A single treatment at a hospital can result in multiple bills from multiple providers. For example, after a surgery, a consumer can receive a bill from the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, and the surgery facility. A health insurance policy may cover some providers and some procedures, but not others. And it may cover all or part of a bill. Some consumers may find it difficult to know what they owe, to whom or for what.

Also:

Many consumers who have medical debts in collection, may have the ability and willingness to pay. Of the consumers with only medical collections accounts, 50 percent have otherwise “clean” credit reports. These consumers may have lacked proper notification about the debt from the collector or are in the process of contesting it. Our May 2014 data determined medical debt is not as good a predictor of a consumer’s likelihood of paying a debt as was previously believed.

While the focus of the research is the problems of the entire debt collection industry in America, it begs one question. With rising medical costs, how much of this trend has to do with the fact that the industry must make up for non-payment of bills?

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