Medical debt crushes middle class


To the editor:

New York can be justly proud that only 5 percent of its people have no medical insurance. However, to advance this fact as an argument against changing medical care in New York by passing the New York Health Act ignores the massive impact of the current system on middle class New Yorkers who have health insurance.

Most of the data available on this subject is national.

I remember Elizabeth Warren, campaigning for president, reporting that 65 percent of bankruptcies were the result of medical debt.

That was just the tip of the iceberg. New studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Urban Institute estimate that 100 million people in the United States are struggling to pay medical debt. Almost a third of Americans are burdened with medical debt. It is difficult to know the exact number because so much of the debt is hidden in credit cards, borrowed from relatives, delayed payments on mortgages and student loans, and payment plans to hospitals.

New Yorkers undoubtedly share in this mountain of debt. At a time when insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies are reaping record profits, deductibles and co-pays keep going up, shifting more and more of medical cost on to the consumers.

Between 2012 and 2016, prices for medical care surged 16 percent — almost four times the rate of overall inflation — according to a report by the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Another KFF study estimated collective medical debt at $195 billion in 2019, larger than the economy of Greece.

Perhaps the most frightening statistic: Nearly half of Americans in households making more than $90,000 a year have incurred health care debt in the past five years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

The impact of this debt on individuals erodes American health care outcomes. Middle class Americans are afraid to seek care for even easily treatable issues, because they can’t afford their deductibles or co-pays. Cancer patients refuse care because they can’t afford their medications. Some people die, and many others lose their homes or the hope of ever owning a home.

Many struggle with debts they can never re-pay.

The New York Health Act — paid for by everyone with an incremental income tax — can mitigate fear of overwhelming debt when making health care decisions, job decisions — even marriage decisions. Vetted by experts, the New York Health Act would result in 95 percent of New Yorkers paying less for health insurance.

We cannot afford not to pass the New York Health Act.

Helen Krim

Helen Krim, medical debt, middle class, New York Health Act,