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Americans over 75 owe the most on medical bills at $17,510 per household, report says


Americans over 75 suffer more medical debt than younger cohorts, while West Virginians are the most likely to still owe money to their doctor, a new report shows.

Analysts at NiceRx online pharmacy said each of the oldest Americans has an average debt of $17,510, the highest rate in the county and double the $8,995 owed by the average 35- to 44-year-old. But when asked if they still owed their doctor money, nine out of ten said they had already paid it back.

It suggests that many people over 75 are being forced into tens of thousands of medical debt as they try to pay off the costs of eye, ear and dental care not normally covered by Medicare – the US-backed health insurance for over 65s. Many of the most indebted also may have put off care earlier because of the cost.

Breaking down the numbers by generation showed that Generation Z — ages 7 to 22 — had the most debt per person at $19,890. It was not clear why this was the case, although it may be related to parents putting off paying medical bills.

The report also found that a quarter of Americans in West Virginia have hospital debt, the highest level of any state. By comparison, in Minnesota — where the least amount of people are in debt — it’s an “impressively low” two percent.

A NiceRx report released this week used U.S. Census data collected in 2019 — the most recent data available — to estimate debt by age group.

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It was collected through the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), which questions a nationally representative sample of up to 37,000 households.

On average, where are Americans most in debt to health care providers?

Below are the top and bottom five states for health care provider debt per person.

That’s according to data from a NiceRx report published this week.

Bottom five

Wyoming ($6,516)

Alaska ($3,752)

S. Caro. ($3,335)

Nebraska ($3,294)

Okla. ($3,292)

Top five

Weight ($975)

Maryland ($1,160)

New York ($1,186)

Michigan ($1,207)

New Hampshire ($!, 261)

Debt estimates by state are based on Consumer Financial Protection Bureau surveys conducted in 2020 — also the most recent available.

Medical debt is a big problem in the United States — about two in five Americans are currently in the red on their hospital bills — and it leaves many families with little choice but to cut back on food, gas and other household bills to pay them off.

But it’s less of a problem among people age 65 and older thanks to Medicare, the government-backed health insurance program that was set up to cover big expenses, such as those who suffer a fall or need a hip replacement.

But the scheme only goes so far, leaving older adults high and dry when it comes to the costs of eye, ear and dental treatments – such as cataract surgery – that only increase with age.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has previously warned that not providing coverage for these procedures leads to “large out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries, which in turn contribute to carrying healthcare debt.”

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The survey found that older adults with medical debt were the most likely to have previously missed medical treatment or a doctor’s visit because of the cost. They were also likely to say that they did not fill a prescription because of the cost, and admitted that it was difficult for them to cover the monthly expenses.

Analysts in the report found that 45- to 54-year-olds were the most likely to have some medical debt to pay off — a fifth of those surveyed — followed by 35- to 44-year-olds and 55- to 64-year-olds — both at 19 percent. .

Conversely, people aged 75 and over were the least likely to owe their hospital – less than one in ten.

However, when the costs were averaged by age group, it showed that the over-75s had the highest pay per person, while those in the 35 to 44 age bracket had the least.

Explaining the results, NiceRx analysts said: “The age group with the highest levels of health debt is also the oldest.

“While this might make sense because older people generally have more health problems and will have a longer time to accumulate debt, they also have to offset the cost of that debt with their retirement funds, which can be tricky.”

The NiceRx report also found that by generation, Gen Zers — currently ages seven to 22 — had the highest average medical debt.

Young people in this group owed an average of $19,890, followed by the over-75s — or the “silent generation” — at $17,180 and those in their 60s and 70s ($14,690).

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Millennials — those between the ages of 23 and 38 — had the lowest level of debt at $8,216, which may explain why when the data was averaged across age groups, the oldest generation had the highest debt burden.

Analysts did not explain why Gen Z is the most indebted to hospitals, but it may be due to low wages and a cost-of-living crisis that makes it harder to pay medical bills.

When the data was weighted by ethnicity, people of white ethnicity were found to owe the most to hospitals at an average of $14,540.

At the other end of the scale were the “other” group ($9,486), ethnic Hispanics ($9,834), and ethnic Asians ($10,420). Those who identified as black owed an average of $11,620.

The report also included data on the proportion of people who owed money to health care providers by state.

It found that those in the Southern states — which are the poorest in America — were the most likely to say they were struggling with health care debt.

By comparison, the top five states where people were least likely to have medical debt were all in the North.

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