Black Americans are more likely to have medical debt: report

56% of Black adults have an unpaid medical or dental bill, a challenge faced by only 37% of white adults, according to a national poll conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation.

Health care debt, a rising issue affecting over 100 million Americans in 2022, disproportionately burdens Black communities due to deeply embedded wealth disparities, a recent investigation by Kaiser Health News and NPR found.

Per results from a national poll conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation, 56% of Black adults have an unpaid medical or dental bill, a challenge faced by only 37% of white adults surveyed.

The disparity is among the lasting impacts of generations of racial discrimination depriving Black Americans of equal access to housing, employment, and other avenues to build generational wealth, according to the study.

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

“This legacy of segregation and structural racism underlies the racial health gap,” Berneta Haynes, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, told NPR. “It impacts health outcomes and access. And it impacts the level of medical debt.”

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the median white family in the United States in 2022 has roughly $184,000 worth of assets, including properties, savings and retirement accounts. By comparison, the median Black family has only $23,000 in assets.

Fallout from accruing medical debt can include having to take out a loan, uprooting from residences, being pursued by collections agencies and more, challenges which Black Americans are found to be experiencing at a higher rate than white counterparts across the board, per the study.

30% of Black Americans surveyed by KFF said they have been denied care due to an outstanding medical debt, compared to 17% of white patients. 20% of Black patients said they have altered their living situations due to medical debts, compared to 10% of white patients. 56% of Black Americans said they have been contacted by a collection agency in the past five years, compared to 37% of white patients surveyed. 

Black woman getting modern flu or Covid-19 vaccine at doctor's office
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Black adults are also nearly twice as likely than white adults to report being denied health care as a direct result of unpaid medical bills, the study found.

Access to proper health care has additionally been limited in Black communities due to increasingly lofty prices as well as discriminatory medical practices from facilities and doctors, leading to distrust between Black patients and the national health care system, per the report.

“African Americans don’t seek health care until we are really, really sick, and then it costs more,” Tabace Burns, a former emergency room nurse in Knoxville, told NPR.

Millions of Americans facing financial insecurity and medical debt have been aided by recent expansions in Medicaid and other health care additions supported by the Affordable Care Act, according to NPR. 

However, approximately 2.2 million Americans who reside in one of the 12 states that have rejected the expansions are unable to access these benefits. Of these residents, 60% are people of color and roughly 25% are Black, according to the KFF survey.

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