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Debt Keeping People From the Doctor’s Office

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The high cost of healthcare and the risk of taking on too much debt is causing many people to avoid seeking even routine care in an effort to save money.

Consumers with credit card and medical debt are far less likely to seek medical attention for situations that can sometimes be quite serious, according to a new study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. In all, nearly six in 10 people who skipped out on healthcare of some kind were more likely to have medical debt than the roughly 20 percent who did not, and also tended to have far more of it. In all, the average balance owed by those with medical debt who avoided care was $8,889, compared with the $2,783 who did not do so.

“Other debts generally thought of as bad, such as credit card debt, may for some individuals have been unplanned and may accumulate beyond their ability to repay,” said Lucie Kalousova of the department of sociology at the University of Michigan, who authored the study. “Holders of such debts may feel more pressure to repay them to avoid interest and stress. Finally, we considered the special case of medical debt, which could behave like other types of bad debt but may also signal health issues that could both necessitate more care and lead to broader debt problems and inability to make debt payments.”

Moreover, the people who avoided care were also far more likely to go without health insurance — which may account for their far larger outstanding medical debts — as well as lower household incomes and net worths, the report said. As such, they are not only more likely to have this type of debt, but also more likely to not have the means to pay them back. In addition, they may also face graver medical concerns in the future because they are avoiding even routine care that can spot issues before they become extremely problematic.

Medical and credit card debt can often be some of the most troublesome consumers deal with simply because of the high interest rates these can carry that other lines of credit might not. As such, they can also significantly add to borrowers’ debts if they are not addressed quickly.

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