Managing Debt

Average Out-of-Pocket Medical Expenses Reach $2,042

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out-of-pocket medical expensesMillions of Americans are now carrying some amount of medical debt as a result of healthcare they received at some point in their lives, and these balances can often linger for some time, or lapse into delinquency and default. Potentially more problematic for consumers, though, is that the cost of this type of care seems to be on the rise.

Through the end of last year, the average patient was dealing with significantly increased out-of-pocket medical costs than they were just 12 months earlier, according to a report from TransUnion Healthcare. Those costs rose some 22 percent during that time, to an average of $2,042 from the $1,678 observed at the end of 2011. However, the average amount of debt borrowers carried across all their various accounts declined slightly, slipping to $34,301 from $34,430.

The reason for the minimal movement in outstanding balances compared with those huge increases in healthcare costs they might face in the event of a medical emergency is important because it shows just how much these bills can affect a borrower’s wallet, the report said. At the end of 2011, for instance, for every $100 in healthcare costs borrowers face, they tended to have about $2,050 in revolving credit, but that number dipped to $1,680 last year, making medical bills create a larger burden both overall and proportionally on those hit with them.

“In the short term, it appears consumers on average have been able to successfully manage their increased out-of-pocket medical expenses with their existing credit facilities,” said Milton Silva-Craig, president of TransUnion Healthcare. “But as those costs continue to rise, there is a concern that consumers — particularly those in the non-prime credit tiers, already strapped for cash – may find themselves in a tight position financially, as healthcare costs compete for a larger share of their disposable income.”

Medical bills are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in the country, as many consumers, even those with fairly comprehensive insurance plans, may face significant out-of-pocket costs for emergency treatment, or especially for care as a result of a grave illness. For example, statistics show that those with cancer are far more likely to be hit with burdens that are nearly impossible for many to afford to pay back, and that in turn can lead to massive financial problems.

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