Medical Debt in America

July 29, 2022 • Volume 32, Issue 26
Should the government cancel what people owe?
By Reed Karaim

Introduction

Medical debt is a problem for millions of Americans today. A reported 41 percent of U.S. adults are saddled with bills from hospitals and doctors' offices as well as those for prescription drugs and other health care needs. An estimated $140 billion in overdue medical debt is in collections. Analysts say America's medical debt problem is unparalleled in the developed world. President Biden, Congress and the major credit reporting agencies have taken steps to reduce the impact of medical debt on personal finances. But some activists say more needs to be done — including having the government cancel medical debt, which they say results from the nation's inadequate and overpriced health care system rather than personal failing. Critics say such a move would only encourage more medical debt, spur higher costs and tilt U.S. health care further toward serving only wealthy patients.

Photo of scattered medical bills on floor of shuttered hospital in Ellington, Missouri, on July 19, 2019. (Getty Images/The Washington Post/Michael S. Williamson)
Medical billing envelopes are scattered on the floor of the closed Southeast Health Center in Ellington, Mo., in 2019, a snapshot of the disruption that has buffeted the U.S. health care system. Some 41 percent of U.S. adults are grappling with medical debt. Solutions range from cancellation to requiring more transparency on the costs of care. (Getty Images/The Washington Post/Michael S. Williamson)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Consumer Protection
Jul. 29, 2022  Medical Debt in America
May 07, 2021  Reining In Big Tech
Nov. 27, 2020  Protecting Consumer Finances
Sep. 27, 2019  ESG Investing
Sep. 06, 2019  Health and Safety Regulations
Mar. 16, 2018  The Fight Over Net Neutrality
Mar. 11, 2016  Arbitrating Disputes
Nov. 11, 2011  Google's Dominance
Jan. 23, 2009  Regulating Toxic Chemicals
Dec. 19, 2008  Limiting Lawsuits
Oct. 12, 2007  Consumer Safety
Feb. 17, 1978  Consumer Protection: Gains and Setbacks
Nov. 15, 1972  Toy Safety
Mar. 03, 1960  Consumer Protection
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Bankruptcy
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Congress Actions
Consumer Behavior
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Economic Analyses, Forecasts, and Statistics
Economic Crises
Employee Benefits
Federal Courts
Freedom of Information
General Social Trends
Health Insurance and Managed Care
Hospitals
Infectious Diseases
Internet and Social Media
Lobbying and Special Interests
Medicaid and Medicare
Medicaid and Medicare
Medical Profession and Personnel
Party Politics
Party Politics
People with Disabilities
Pharmaceuticals
Powers and History of the Presidency
Regulation and Deregulation
Supreme Court History and Decisions