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May 1, 2024
David Burda
Consumerism Economics Policy

A Break in the Medical Affordability Crisis Clouds

As a journalist, I’m more of a bad news person than a good news person. I teeter on the line between skepticism and cynicism. I’m happier reporting on conflict than I am reporting on resolution.

But every dog has its day, and one of those days came for me this week when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released an updated report on how much unpaid medical debt consumers have on their credit reports.

The last time I wrote about the CFPB was in December in, “The Complexity of Medical Bills Rolls Downhill for Consumers.” The CFPB had just released a new report that said more than 20% of consumers had unpaid medical debt on their credit reports and that consumers filed thousands of complaints with the CFPB on efforts by debt collection agencies to collect on that unpaid medical debt. The report was quite negative, and I was very happy to write that blog post.

Earlier this week, the CFPB released a 17-page update to a March 2022 report, and as much as the CFPB tried to spin the updated report as bad news, I didn’t bite. The updated report had a lot of good news.

I’ll skip the CFPB’s spin and get right to the facts (and my comment) in the report:

  • The percentage of U.S. consumers with unpaid medical debt on their credit reports dropped to 5% in June from 14% in March 2022. (That’s good.)
  • The total dollar value of the medical debt consumers have on their credit reports dropped to $49 billion in June from $88 billion in March 2022. (That’s good.)
  • The percentage of seniors with unpaid medical debt on the credit reports dropped to less than 3% in June from 8.4% in March 2022. (That’s good.)
  • The average unpaid balance on medical bills on consumer credit reports rose to $3,100 in June from $2,000 in March 2022. (That’s actually good as three major consumer credit rating agencies removed unpaid medical bills of $500 or less from consumer credit reports as promised, making the average balance go up.)

Is the affordability of medical care still a crisis in the U.S.? Absolutely. Will crowdfunding unpaid medical bills and wiping out medical debt with donations from charitable organizations still do nothing to incent providers to make their prices more affordable? Absolutely nothing.

But the new CFPB report does show that some needles are starting to point in the right direction. And that’s good news.

Thanks for reading.

About the Author

David Burda

David Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personnel experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 40 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 40 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.

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