For the second year in a row, Debt.com polled Americans to find how little it takes to end up in collections. 

The finances of many Americans are so fragile, even a few thousand dollars in medical expenses can drive them from the doctor to the debt collector.

During the peak of the pandemic last year, Debt.com conducted its first-ever medical debt survey. Only 15 months apart, the results changed significantly.

In 2020, just under half (46 percent) of Americans said they had medical debt. This year? It’s up to an even 50 percent.

The number of Americans who had medical debt in collections dropped a full 10 percent over the past year – from 56 percent in 2020 to 46 percent this year.

The pandemic may have reshaped the world but one fact remains: Americans struggle to pay medical bills.

“Long after this awful pandemic finally ends, medical debt will still be here,” says Don Silvestri, president of Debt.com. “There’s no easy vaccine for medical debt. It will take help from federal and state lawmakers, and more education for consumers.”

Below are the biggest year-over-year changes Debt.com found quizzing Americans on their medical debt…

Do you have outstanding medical bills or medical debt?

 

Have your medical bills been sent to collections?

 

 

Were you successful negotiating your debt?

 

 

How much do you owe in medical debt?

 

 

What is the primary source of your medical bills?

 

 

Do you have outstanding medical bills or medical debt? Yes No
Percentage of respondents 50.09% 49.91%
Have your medical bills been sent to collections? Yes No Unsure
Percentage of respondents 45.86% 39.47% 14.67%
How much do you owe? Percentage of respondents
Less than $500 20%
$500 to less than $1,000 23.26%
$1,000 to less than $5,000 33.72%
$5,000 to less than $10,000 12.02%
$10,000 to less than $50,000 6.9%
$50,000 to less than $100,000 1.94%
$100,000 to less than $150,000 1%
$150,000 or more 1.16%
What type of health insurance do you have? Percentage of respondents
Employer-provided 37.65%
Medicare or Medicaid 45.88%
Self-purchased through an exchange 11.76%
None 4.71%
What is the primary source of your medical debt? Percentage of respondents
Diagnostic tests 23.77%
Hospitalization 18.33%
Emergency room 18.56%
Outpatient services 15.16%
Doctor visits 13.11%
Dental care 6.15%
Prescription drugs 4.10%
Nursing home/long-term care 0.82%
How did your insurance company respond to your medical bills? Told me I received out-of-network care Denied my claim Other
Percentage of respondents 14.54% 13.22% 72.24%
Have you tried negotiating to lower the cost of your bills? No Yes, I tried to negotiate on my own Yes, I used a medical bills advocate
Percentage of respondents 60.43% 35.32% 4.25%
Were you successful in this negotiation? Yes No
Percentage of respondents 34.04% 65.96%
Are you currently on a payment plan? Yes No
Percentage of respondents 34.63% 65.37%
Do you have outstanding medical bills or medical debt? Yes No
Percentage of respondents 45.87% 54.13%
Have your medical bills been sent to collections? Yes No Unsure
Percentage of respondents 56.16% 30.78% 13.06%
How much do you owe? Percentage of respondents
Less than $500 13.77%
$500 to less than $1,000 18.55%
$1,000 to less than $5,000 31.93%
$5,000 to less than $10,000 14.91%
$10,000 to less than $50,000 15.30%
$50,000 to less than $100,000 3.06%
$100,000 to less than $150,000 0.96%
$150,000 or more 1.53%
What type of health insurance do you have? Percentage of respondents
Employer-provided 43.13%
Medicare or Medicaid 36.17%
Self-purchased through an exchange 8.90%
None 11.80%
What is the primary source of your medical debt? Percentage of respondents
Hospitalization 24.80%
Diagnostic tests 21.68%
Emergency room 18.95%
Doctor visits 14.84%
Outpatient services 10.94%
Dental care 4.30%
Prescription drugs 3.71%
Nursing home/long-term care 0.78%
How did your insurance company respond to your medical bills? Told me I received out-of-network care Denied my claim
Percentage of respondents 55.80% 44.20%
Have you tried negotiating to lower the cost of your bills? No Yes, I tried to negotiate on my own Yes, I used a medical bills advocate
Percentage of respondents 60.52% 34.55% 4.94%
Were you successful in this negotiation? Yes No
Percentage of respondents 27.47% 72.53%
Are you currently on a payment plan? Yes No
Percentage of respondents 36.50% 63.50%

Methodology:  Debt.com surveyed 541 people and asked nine questions related to their medical debt. People responded from all 50 states and Washington, DC and were aged 18 and above. Responses were collected through SurveyMonkey. The survey was conducted from Sept. 7, 2021 to Sept. 28, 2021.