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KFF’s Kaiser Health News (KHN) and NPR today launched a yearlong investigative project that explores the scale, impact, and causes of the health care debt crisis in the United States.
Drawing upon a special KFF poll conducted for the project, original data analysis, and hundreds of interviews, the investigation reveals a problem far more pervasive than previously reported. That’s because much of the medical debt is hidden as monthly installments paid via credit card, loans from family, and payment plans arranged directly with hospital and doctor’s offices.
About 4 in 10 adults report having medical or dental debt, the KFF poll finds, a share that roughly translates into an estimated 100 million adults. Many expect repaying the debt to take years, and about 1 in 5 say they do not expect to ever pay it all off.
The problem drives millions of Americans from their homes or into bankruptcy, but the consequences are not just financial. About 1 in 7 people with health care debt say they have been denied access to a hospital, doctor, or other provider because of unpaid bills. The toll of medical debt tends to fall most severely on the poor, the sick, and people of color, the investigation reveals.
Diagnosis: Debt is a multimedia series featuring KHN senior correspondent Noam N. Levey and NPR correspondent Yuki Noguchi. The first installment will run today on khn.org and npr.org and air on NPR’s Morning Edition, which can be found at participating member stations. It represents a fusion of the investigative power of KHN and NPR, the public opinion survey expertise of the KFF polling team, and original data analysis.