Report Examines the Medical Debt Crisis Disproportionately Affecting Black Families

A recent report by the National consumer law center examines the intersection between the racial health and wealth gap and the harms of aggressive medical debt collection. 

Despite the Affordable Care Act, medical debt, which accounts for around fifty-eight percent of all debts in collection, remains a growing crisis that disproportionately affects Black households and communities. In comparison to white non-Hispanic families, 27.9% of Black households incur medical debt.

Black people experience worse outcomes, decreased healthcare access, and lower quality service from providers compared to whites. In addition, medical debt has a higher impact on Black communities, worsening health disparities in Black communities and widening the racial health gap as a result of decades-long institutional racism in healthcare.

“Due to long-standing racial inequities in health and wealth, the medical debt crisis has impacted Black families more acutely than white families,” said Berneta Haynes, author of the report and staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. “In recognition of the explicit role racism plays in medical debt and health disparities, advocates and leaders should take action to protect Black patients from unaffordable medical bills that trap families in a cycle of financial insecurity.”

According to the report, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the reality of stark racial inequities and gaps in health, with Black people and other people of color more likely to become ill and die from COVID-19.

In addition to widening the racial health gap, centuries of systemic racism and discriminatory practices have left Black households with less income and resources to fall back on when faced with financial hardships like mounting medical expenses.

Medical bills often arrive unexpectedly, throwing families into debt. In addition, unpaid medical bills are reported to credit bureaus, hurting consumer credit ratings, which are vital for employment, housing, and other financial items. As a result, medical debt can lead to long-term financial insecurity. 

“Medical debt must be addressed as a racial justice issue with advocates and policymakers targeting medical debt solutions to Black communities and households,” said Haynes. 

 

Source: NCLC