A Break in the Medical Affordability Crisis Clouds

By David Burda, News Editor & Columnist, 4sight Health
LinkedIn: David R. Burda
LinkedIn: 4sight Health
X: @davidrburda

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 recently 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.

Recently, 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.

This article was originally published on 4sight Health and is republished here with permission.