A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analysis finds that Black adults, those in poor health, and people living with disabilities are most likely to carry significant medical debt.
Americans likely owe hundreds of billions of dollars in total medical debt, according to a KFF report. The analysis is based on data from the 2020 Survey of Income and Program Participation, a nationally representative survey that asks every adult in a household whether they owed money for medical bills in 2019 and, if so, how much they owe. It looks at people with medical debt of more than $250.
The survey finds that nearly one in 10 adults (nine percent)—or roughly 23 million people—owe medical debt. This includes 11 million who owe more than $2,000 and 3 million people who owe more than $10,000. Other key findings:
- People ages 35-49 (11 percent) and 50-64 (12 percent) are more likely than other adults to report medical debt.
- Larger shares of people in poor health (21 percent) and living with a disability (15 percent) report medical debt.
- Among racial and ethnic groups, a larger share of Black adults (16 percent) report having medical debt compared to white (nine percent), Hispanic (nine percent), and Asian American (four percent) adults.
- Adults who were uninsured for more than half of the year are more likely to report medical debt (13 percent) than those who were insured for all or most of the year (nine percent).
“It’s not yet clear how the pandemic and resulting recession affected medical debt,” KFF said in an announcement about the survey. “Many people lost jobs and income early in the pandemic, which could have led to more difficulty affording medical care. At the same time, many people delayed or went without care, so fewer people may have been exposed to costly medical care. Shifts in insurance coverage and COVID-related cost-sharing waivers could also affect what people had to pay out-of-pocket.”