CFPB: Over 4 million U.S. seniors affected by medical debt

4.5 million U.S. adults at or over the age of 65 had medical debt, many with significant hardships in 2018. This is according to data from the FINRA Foundation National Financial Capability Study (NFCS), compiled and released by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Office of Older Americans.

“Many older adults get medical insurance coverage through Medicare,” the CFPB says in a bulletin announcing the data release. “But Medicare requires coinsurance and copays for many services. Unless they have supplemental coverage, many older adults lack coverage for routine costs such as dental check-ups, hearing services, and other important services. These and a variety of other medical needs can put older adults in debt.”

The data is derived from a figure in which 8.5% of older Americans responded in the NCFS study saying they had medical debt. When coupled with estimated figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, that brings the figure to over 4.5 million American seniors, the CFPB says.

“The incidence of medical debt is lower among adults ages 65 and older compared to younger age groups,” the Bureau says in its data release. “This finding is likely the result of older Americans having the highest health insurance coverage rates of all age groups due to their eligibility for coverage through Medicare. However, Medicare coverage is limited.”

Among seniors, medical debt is also disproportionately more common among seniors of color, those living near the poverty line, people who are uninsured, unmarried seniors and those who do not own their own homes, the Bureau explains.

Specifically, within the cohort of older Americans with medical debt, the largest share is made up of seniors who had no health insurance coverage (26.1%). This is followed by seniors who have an annual income of between $15,000 and $24,999 (22.2%). 21.1% of respondents fell into the “Other” category, made up of renters and individuals living in a home without payment.

Additionally, many older adults with medical debt carry other debts, have low credit standing and are contacted by collectors, often exacerbating the issues they face, the CFPB explains.

“These findings indicate greater financial hardship among many older adults with medical debt,” CFPB explains. “Along with the tendency among older adults with medical debt to skip health care treatments, these findings highlight the importance of improving access to affordable health care, and ensuring that medical debt collectors adhere to fair debt collection and fair credit reporting laws.”

Read the data release at the CFPB.

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