A new study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that people in the United States now owe collection agencies a staggering $140 billion due to unpaid medical bills—making healthcare the nation’s largest source of debt in collections.

The researchers estimate that in June 2020, roughly one in five people in the U.S. had medical debt in collections—meaning their debt had been sold to a third-party tasked with retrieving the money, often by harassing low-income people who are unable to pay.

“This is not a sign of a broken system,” tweeted Charles Idelson, a spokesperson for National Nurses United. “It’s a profiteering healthcare system working just the way the corporate price gougers want it to—and the collateral damage of those whose lives are harmed by unpayable, outrageously inflated debt is irrelevant to them.”

According to the new study, medical debt was highest among people who live in the South, particularly in “lower-income communities in states that did not expand Medicaid.” A dozen states, all controlled by Republicans, have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, depriving millions of poor and vulnerable people of life-saving health coverage…

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