Nearly 1 in 2 Patients with Medical Debt Feel “Trapped”, New Poll from Leading Healthcare Orgs Finds
Almost two thirds of patients would blame elected officials if they fail to act.
WASHINGTON, DC, October 30, 2023 – A new national poll reveals that patients are counting on lawmakers to solve the medical debt crisis. U.S. adults say it is past time for federal and state policymakers to act. Over 90% of U.S. adults agree that elected officials should pass policies that protect people with serious illnesses like cancer from medical debt and harassment from collection agencies. And 64% said they would blame officials if they fail to reduce health care costs. There is bipartisan agreement behind both sentiments. The poll was commissioned by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and RIP Medical Debt. It was conducted by PerryUndem Research.
Medical debt is now a common experience for people living in the U.S. Nearly seven in 10 (69%) say they receive medical bills they cannot afford and nearly half of patients report current or past medical debt, even those with health coverage through their employer or private insurance. Nearly half (48%) of those with medical debt say they feel trapped by it.
“Patients are hungry for change when it comes to medical debt – literally and figuratively,” said LLS President and CEO E. Anders Kolb, M.D. “From skipping doctors’ appointments to being forced to change the type of food they buy, millions are making daily sacrifices as they go deeper into medical debt. People from all political backgrounds are calling for a better system. We hope that’s a powerful signal to lawmakers that it’s time to act decisively.”
To manage health care costs, most patients (63%) are making sacrifices. Some say they are forced to delay payment, put bills on a credit card, or challenge the bill. Others are left with an impossible choice: pay their medical bills or go without basic needs, even changing the foods they eat to cut costs.
The poll shows a ripple effect of medical debt on a patient’s mental and emotional health, with nearly half (45%) believing they will never be able to pay off their debt and nearly one in three (32%) patients feeling heightened depression and anxiety.
“Everyday we hear from people struggling under the financial and emotional weight of medical debt,” shares RIP Medical Debt CEO and president Allison Sesso. “They’re forced to make impossible decisions which weigh on their mental health and undermine their physical health, all while genuinely wanting to pay their bills and be responsible. The system is failing them and these survey results are a clear call for local and federal interventions to make health insurance more comprehensive, financial aid more accessible and to ban extraordinary collection actions – among other systemic changes.”
Results indicate that people see medical debt all around them with 89% of those surveyed believing that “lots of people have medical debt currently.” This reality is even worse for those who have been diagnosed with cancer, who are more likely to face ongoing treatment with hefty price tags. More than six in 10 U.S. adults say they would be unable to afford the cost of cancer if they were diagnosed tomorrow.
“Cancer patients continue to suffer from a significant financial toll. The high cost of cancer care often continues for not only months but even years, which can result in substantial medical debt,” said Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). “No one battling this disease should have to make the impossible decision between life saving treatment and daily needs. However, this is a reality for far too many who have received a cancer diagnosis. We urge federal and state lawmakers to reduce this financial burden by prioritizing policies that make health care more affordable and medical debt less prevalent.”
U.S. adults see medical debt as different from other forms of debt. They view it as entirely the fault of institutions and systems and not something patients have any control over. Over 8 in 10 blame the health care industry for fueling the medical debt crisis – not patients themselves. Many agree that the problem stems from the system putting profit over patients.
Lawmakers have already begun to take action on this critical issue – both at the federal level and in states, like Arizona, New York, and Colorado. Some policy solutions include giving patients more time to pay back bills, restrictions on harmful debt collection practices, and improvements to make financial assistance more readily available. These wins are an important first step to lowering costs for patients, but more needs to be done. U.S. adults agree that lawmakers can – and should – continue to pass common-sense policies to protect patients and put an end to medical debt.
About the poll:
This was a national survey of 2,663 adults in the U.S. conducted August 10-30, 2023. It was offered online via YouGov. The survey included large numbers of individuals with current or past medical debt, and with a chronic illness; as well as representative sampling of several racial / ethnic groups.
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