Americans have a tough choice to make: See a doctor or feed their families.
One-third facing a medical emergency prolong seeing the doctor because they can’t afford the treatment, says a recent survey from Regions Bank. More than 3 in 4 are torn between buying daily necessities like food or paying down their medical debt.
A Regions Bank manager and spokesperson of the survey says ignoring your health can lead to more expensive treatments later.
“Medical events can be traumatic and unpredictable – and the resulting debt can add greater stress to the healing process,” Joye Hehn says. “Being prepared beforehand and knowing how to address medical debt can make a significant difference to staying on track with your finances.”
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It’s a tough ask when Americans weren’t prepared for the pandemic or its damage to their finances.
A health crisis begets a medical debt crisis
The survey’s authors point to the outbreak of COVID-19 as one major cause of medical debt. Similar research shows the number of Americans with medical bills increased during the height of the pandemic.
One Regions Bank manager suggests that debt has lingered despite the growing lapse in time.
“During the pandemic, many Americans found themselves without work or insurance coverage, putting a strain on their ability to pay off old medical debt or manage new expenses,” Wendi Boyen said. “Even as the pandemic eases, many still struggle with this debt.”
Regions Bank isn’t the only organization to track how the pandemic and its subsequent inflation are hurting those with medical debt.
One financial disaster to another
Similar research from Debt.com shows since the pandemic, twice as many Americans can’t afford $500 in medical debt. In 2021, 40 percent couldn’t pay that amount in medical bills – now it’s up to 80 percent.
To curb record-high inflation rates, the Fed has raised interest rates multiple times this past year. That only makes it harder for people to pay their medical bills and makes them nervous to can take on new ones.
“We tend to think of inflation as annoying instead of dangerous,” Debt.com President Don Silvestri says. “But inflation means more than higher food and gas prices. It pervades everything we spend money on – including our physical health.”
Debt.com previously reported medical debt makes people three times more likely to experience symptoms like depression and anxiety. All that stress leads to more physical issues too like high blood pressure. It can create a cycle: health problems, bills, stress, then more health problems.
More healthcare debt tips
Medical debt is a huge burden for many Americans. If your medical debt is overwhelming, you may want to consider negotiating your medical bills. You can also use health and wellness programs to stay in shape and help prevent the need for healthcare later, such as using employer-sponsored wellness programs or eating healthier.
A financial advisor can help you with your medical debt. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. (Sponsored)
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