(WSAW) – The number one reason people go bankrupt in America, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is the pressure of medical debt.
Credit health data that the Urban Institute has collected during the pandemic shows just how much debt in collections people owe across the country. Looking at a representative snapshot of this data from August 2021, the data shows that approximately 12% of Wisconsin residents have medical debt in collection. The typical amount people owe is around $922.
That’s about twice the amount around Minnesota and Michigan, and about a third more expensive than what the typical person in Illinois owes. It’s also about 17% more than what a typical person owes across the country, or about $774. More people in communities of color in Wisconsin have medical debt in collections compared to white communities, 25% to 10% respectively.
Looking at county-level debt, particularly in the North Central region, nearly half of the counties in NewsChannel 7’s viewing area show the typical amount of debt for people above the median of the county. ‘State. The typical person with collection debt in the viewing area’s most populous county, Marathon, owes about $1,000. Clark County has the highest typical amount at around $1,300. Looking at the percentage of people in each county with medical debt in collection, Wood County has the highest at around 16%.
“I can tell you, from someone who’s been doing it for years and is an expert, no it’s not you; the system is crazy.
Ruth Lande is RIP Medical Debt’s Vice President for Debt Acquisition. The organization buys medical debt in bulk and pays it off for people twice below the federal poverty level. The debt is chosen at random and those lucky enough to have their debt completely wiped out receive a letter in the mail telling them that they have no more debt to pay. So far, RIP Medical Debt has cleared $6 billion of people’s medical debt in collections since 2014; of this generosity, $10,157,914.18 benefited the people of Wisconsin.
Lande said medical facility billing systems are complicated and — in his own words — “broken.” As someone who has worked in the billing departments of several hospitals, she has some advice. The big one: She suggests finding out if you can get help from your hospital. The best time to understand what’s available at your local hospital, she said, is before you even have any bills.
“If you have bills, apply for financial assistance. Tell your story. Each family has a unique story. You may have several sick people. Maybe you have a kid in college. You may have someone, a relative, that you support. Every family has a unique story, so share that story with the hospital.
At best, you might qualify for full coverage of your bill. At the very least, you may be able to get some of your bill covered by hospital programs. His other big piece of advice, don’t pretend the bill doesn’t exist, scary as the numbers might be. She said speaking with the hospital’s billing department to help you understand your bill or work out a plan could help you avoid collections.
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