Nearly one in four American adults under the age of 65 has medical debt, according to the results of a new study by the Urban Institute, and southerners are hit hardest by past-due doctors’ bills.
The study authors, Michael Karpman and Kyle J. Caswell, found that eight of the ten states with the highest rates of past-due medical debt were in the South: Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Georgia. The rate was lowest in Hawaii, at 6 percent of adults, and the highest was Mississippi, at 37 percent. Nationwide, African-Americans and people aged 25 to 34 were most likely to have past-due doctors’ bills.Unfortunately, the authors do not include a map in their report, but had they done so it would have looked very much like the one below, which shows life expectancy at birth by county in the U.S. (red is low and blue is high). These calculations were done by researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, as I noted at the time.
The cause of high medical debt and low life expectancy are the same--poverty. Every other rich country in the world has a system of national health insurance that lowers the chance of high medical debt and increases the chance of high life expectancy. However, there does not seem to be any serious movement in this country to alter the current health care system in any meaningful way.