CFPB: More than 4 million American seniors affected by medical debt

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4.5 million U.S. adults age 65 or older had medical debt, many with significant hardship in 2018. That’s according to data from the FINRA Foundation National Financial Capability Study (NFCS), compiled and published by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Office of Older Americans.

“Many seniors have medical insurance coverage through Medicare,” the CFPB said in a bulletin announcing the release of the data. “But Medicare requires coinsurance and copays for many services. Unless they have additional coverage, many seniors are not covered for routine costs such as dental checkups, hearing services, and other important services. These and a variety of other medical needs can put seniors in debt.

The data is derived from a figure in which 8.5% of older Americans responded in the NCFS study by saying they had medical debt. Coupled with estimated numbers from the US Census Bureau, that brings the figure to more than 4.5 million American seniors, according to the CFPB.

“The incidence of medical debt is lower among adults 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 rates of health insurance coverage of any age group due to their eligibility for Medicare coverage. However, Medicare coverage is limited.

Among seniors, medical debt is also disproportionately more common among seniors of color, those living near the poverty line, the uninsured, single seniors, and those who don’t own their own homes, says the Office.

Specifically, within the cohort of older Americans with medical debt, the largest share are seniors who had no health insurance coverage (26.1%). Next come seniors whose annual income is between $15,000 and $24,999 (22.2%). 21.1% of respondents belong to the “Other” category, made up of tenants and people living in housing without payment.

Additionally, many seniors with medical debt have other debts, have low creditworthiness, and are contacted by collectors, often compounding the problems they face, says the CFPB.

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

Read the publication of the data at the CFPB.

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