More than 15 percent of adults in the United States report past-due medical debt, with nearly 73 percent owing some or all of that debt to hospitals.
Nonprofit hospitals—which account for 60 percent of U.S. hospitals—must provide charity care and community benefits to maintain tax-exempt status. However, these hospitals determine their own charity care eligibility criteria and researchers note financial assistance policies are often difficult to find and understand.
- Among adults who report owing past-due medical debt to hospitals:
- 27.9 percent owe all of their debt to hospitals.
- 45.1 percent owe their debt to hospitals and other providers.
- Adults with disabilities (29.5%) were more than twice as likely as those without disabilities (12.5%) to report past-due medical debt.
- Black (25.9%) and Latino (19.1%) adults were more likely to report past-due medical debt than White (12.8%) adults.
- Individuals with incomes below 250 percent of the FPL were no more likely to avoid being referred to debt collection or receive discounted care when compared to higher-income earners.
Medical debt is a persistent challenge across the country and hospitals are a key source of that debt. Standards and consumer protections are necessary to alleviate debt burdens and improve access to affordable care.
About the Urban Institute
The nonprofit Urban Institute is dedicated to elevating the debate on social and economic policy. For nearly five decades, Urban scholars have conducted research and offered evidence-based solutions that improve lives and strengthen communities across a rapidly urbanizing world. Their objective research helps expand opportunities for all, reduce hardship among the most vulnerable, and strengthen the effectiveness of the public sector. Visit the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center for more information specific to its staff and its recent research.