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Opinion: Up to your neck in medical debt? You probably live in a red state – Stay Current News
  • August 5, 2021

Opinion: Up to your neck in medical debt? You probably live in a red state

Having medical problems is bad enough but being burdened with medical debt? It’s enough to make you sick.

A new study by the Journal of the Medical Association (JAMA) shows that Americans have saddled quite a bit $ 140 billion in unpaid medical bills last year – 75% more than 2016.

But the real size of Americans’ medical debt is certainly much higher, as the JAMA number only reflects debts held by collection agencies – the nice people you call at dinner and ask for money. According to the JAMA report, which is based on a study by the rating agency TransUnion, it affects almost one in five Americans – 18%.

The data appears to be moving along the political line, meaning the debt is focused on states that did not participate in the Medicaid enlargement program of the Affordable Care Act. This program, launched in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama, has enabled millions of Americans to benefit from Medicaid – if their governors and state legislatures agree to such an extension.

Of the dozen states that haven’t embraced Medicaid’s expansion over the years, most are in the south of the pro-Trump region. There are four other red states that have also refused to expand Medicaid: Texas, Kansas, Wyoming, and South Dakota. The list compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation includes another state that was – barely – an option for Biden last year: Wisconsin.

Again, it is hardly surprising, says JAMA, that:

  • Debt is highest in the southern states (all of which voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and again – with the exception of Georgia – in 2020)

  • Debt is lowest in northeastern states (all of which voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020)

The refusal by politicians in those dozen states to allow Medicare to expand has hurt the very people who vote for them – millions of people without health insurance and facing higher medical bills.

Meanwhile, there is a vicious circle at play here that hurts people who have medical debts. With bills piling up every month, some are just more urgent than others. The National Consumer Law Center has a simple rule: “Prioritize debts that fail to pay immediately harms your family.”

This means that people in debt tend to pay bills that are simply more important first, such as electricity and car loans. Finally, failing to pay your electricity or gas bills can result in those things being turned off and your car loan in default.Auto loan debt rose to a record $ 1.37 trillion in 2020Says Experian rating agency – could lead to repossession of your car.

Medical bills are therefore becoming scarce – and are therefore increasingly being handed over to the oh-so-friendly collection agencies. You might get awkward letters and phone calls, but at least the lights stay on and you still have your car.

The problem, however, is that people who may or may not be able to pay medical bills have lower credit scores, making future loans even more expensive. Banks can refuse credit card applications, landlords can refuse an application as being too risky, and so on. Again, this is a vicious cycle that can trap Americans who want nothing more than to escape debt, climb the economic ladder, and live better lives.

This is an issue high on the agenda with President Biden and the Democrats in Congress, some of whom are pushing for federal intervention to protect millions of Americans who have been banned from the Medicare expansion. But some Democrats say there are bigger priorities than spending billions to solve a problem created by Republican obstructionism. “There are many competing priorities,” Texan Democrat Lloyd Doggett told the New York Times last month.

It’s out of the question now Medical debt also tends to tend towards the elderly. The National Council for Aging puts it bluntly:

“Medical debt is the number one barrier to economic well-being.” It cites a study showing that out-of-pocket medical expenses were more than $ 38,000 in the five years prior to a person’s death one in four seniors was on the verge of bankruptcy. ”

Medical costs rise with age and tend to rise faster than inflation (for example, the social security cost of living increase was only 1.3% this year). Add to this the fact that millions of older Americans live on a steady income, and many of them in turn live in states where politicians, for whatever reason (blind political partisanship I suspect), haven’t done much. if something helps. Nevertheless, they are chosen again and again. What kind of country we live in.

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Jack

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