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. The latest study necessarily understates the level of U.S. medical debt because it only analyzes debt in collections—not all unpaid bills owed to healthcare providers such as hospitals, which often hit uninsured patients with exorbitant prices. "The increasing number of lawsuits that hospitals file against patients to collect debt, which can lead to legal fees or wage garnishments, are not included in the [$140 billion] figure," Times reporters Sarah Kliff and Margot Sanger-Katz noted Tuesday. "Nor are the medical bills that patients pay with credit cards or have on long-term payment plans."
"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."