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Study: 1 in 5 Americans have medical debt

Debt typically doesn't just appear overnight; it accumulates over time. However, all it takes is one unexpected or significant expense to tip that debt level from difficult to unmanageable.

This is often what happens to people with medical debt. A person can be taking every precaution possible can to manage finances, but if he or she gets hurt or falls ill suddenly, the resulting medical bills can be enough to send someone into a financial free fall. Sadly, this is an experience far too many people in and around Illinois will be faced with. According to one study conducted the financial website NerdWallet, about 51 million adults in the U.S. have medical debt.

Unlike other expenses, medical costs are typically not presented to a patient prior to that person agreeing to pay for it. Think about it: We see the price of a house before buying; we check price tags on clothing; we compare the cost of one day care over the other; we hold off on buying things until we have saved up some money. We do all these things before committing to a purchase.

Medical expenses, however, generally come as a very unwelcome surprise. It is often not until we open a bill that we have any indication of how much medical care costs. In fact, nearly two-thirds of the adults in this country have been unpleasantly surprised by the true cost of medical care.

The lack of transparency in hospital costs is not the only contributing factor to surprising care costs. Billing errors are also a source of inflated pricing, and these errors typically result in overpayment for care. 

Another reason people can get buried in medical debt stems from the wildly unstable pricing structures at hospitals. A procedure that costs $5,000 at one facility could cost as much as $291,000 at another. How can a patient be expected to understand costs when different hospitals have such different pricing structures?

Medical debt can be extraordinarily frustrating to deal with, and oftentimes a person is also dealing with serious health issues as well. In order to relieve some of the anxiety associated with this financial burden, it may be a good idea to speak with an attorney to explore options for debt relief.

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