Medical Debt, By the Numbers

August 25, 2021


$140 billion: Estimated amount currently in collections in the U.S. (does not include medical debt placed on credit cards, paid in installments, discharged in bankruptcy, subject to wage garnishment or held by healthcare providers).

17.8: Percentage of Americans with medical debt in collections. Individuals who live in the South (24%) are more likely to have medical debt in collections than those in the Northeast (11%), Midwest (18%) or West (13%).

$2,494: Average amount the typical person with medical debt owes.

13: Percentage of Americans who accrued new medical debt between June 2019 and June 2020. 

24: Percentage of Americans who reported struggling to pay medical bills of $1,000 or less (2015). 

8: Percentage of insured Americans who reported struggling to pay medical bills exceeding $10,000 (2015).

21: Percentage of those struggling to pay medical bills who said emergency room bills were the main reason, followed by hospitalization (20%), dental visits (12%) and diagnostic tests (11%) (2015). 

36: Percentage who attribute their difficulty paying medical bills to a disease or illness, including heart disease (8%), cancer (6%), gastrointestinal issues (6%), and allergies or respiratory disease (5%) (2015).  

$2,396: Mean amount those who accrued new medical debt between June 2019 and June 2020 added.

$551: Difference between the average amount of medical debt owed by those in the lowest-income zip codes ($677) compared with those in the highest ($126).

63: Percentage of medical debt collection complaints to the Consumer Finance Protection Board (CFPB) that allege the debt was never owed, it was already paid or it was not verified. (The CFPB doesn’t assess the veracity of the complaints.)

180: In days, the required waiting period from the time a medical debt is sent to collections before it can be reported to a credit agency.  

7: In years, the amount of time a medical debt usually remains on a credit report after it is sent to collections. (The latest credit-scoring systems don’t give medical debt as much weight as older systems did; however, many mortgage lenders still use the older systems.)

Sources: Journal of the American Medical Association, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, The New York Times, Federal Trade Commission, Kaiser Family Foundation/The New York Times

Compiled by Jeffrey Billman 

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