Americans owe at least $195 billion in medical debt according to Axios and new research from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser FamilyFoundation.
“People with medical debt,” the report finds, are “cutting spending on food, clothing, and other household items, spending down their savings to pay for medical bills, borrowing money from friends or family members, or taking on additional debts.”
In North Carolina, predatory lending practices by some of the state’s largest hospital systems is exacerbating the medical debt crisis.
A study by the National Academy of State Health Policy and the North Carolina State Health Plan found that hospitals are encouraging patients who can’t pay to open medical credit cards that charge interest.
“Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, UNC Health, Cone Health, and AccessOne Health encouraged patients to use medical credit cards that can charge interest rates as high as 18% after a promotional period,” the study showed.
When that doesn’t work, hospital systems will attempt to collect on bills by damaging credit scores and suing patients, according to the study.
One example: Mary Oliver took her husband Patrick to the ER at Atrium Health when he felt numbness in his hands and feet.
The Oliver’s are uninsured. After a less-than 24-hour stint in the hospital, Mary and Patrick were hit with a nearly $30,000 bill they cannot pay.
Now Atrium is suing. A police officer was even sent to their door.
The Oliver’s are not alone. More than 1,000 families in Mecklenburg County are in the same situation, according to WBTV.
Nonprofit hospitals in North Carolina receive upwards of $1.8 billion in tax breaks each year, then turned around and bill $150 million to poor patients who should qualify for free or discounted care.
When these patients can’t pay, the hospitals offer them a high interest credit card. If that doesn’t work, they garnish wages and drag them into collections.
America’s medical debt problem is bad.
Loan shark tactics by the state’s nonprofit hospitals makes it much worse.