The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Medical Debt:
Your Money or Your Life!

Jun 20, 2022

Sick and injured people who recently required life-saving care at hospitals are being taken to court and sued.

Journalists at Kaiser Health News and National Public Radio investigated and found that 41% of adults, a whopping 100 million people, are suffering under the weight of medical debt.

They gathered their information through a nationwide investigation. They discovered the situation is horrendous and are trying to shine a spotlight on it.

A young husband they interviewed was taken to court for a 10,000-dollar debt after he had to have his leg amputated. To settle with the court, this newly disabled man’s wife drained her retirement account and had to work three jobs.

Reporters learned that half of U.S. adults have gone into debt during the past five years because of medical or dental bills. The most horrifying aspect of medical debt is that it is blocking people from needed care. In the healthcare world, a life can be saved if a condition is caught early. If there is a long delay in diagnosis, treatment may be more expensive. Or the problem can be too far along for successful treatment.

In one case highlighted by reporters, a young father who sells health insurance had an infection. He was not up-to-date on paying whatever he owed to his doctor, so he was denied care at the doctor’s office. He ended up at the hospital and now owes 50,000 dollars.

Of the 100 million people with medical debt, two thirds or 66 million people are holding off on medical care they or a family member need because of cost.

When the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, it was sold as a solution to the problem of death caused by lack of health insurance. IF some DEATH may have been prevented by this law, DEBT surely was not prevented. The very title –Affordable Care Act—left the population unprepared for the tidal wave of medical debt that was to come, despite having health insurance.

The law, guided through Congress by a health insurance industry insider, made high deductibles the new normal. The law, looking out for the financial interests of health insurance companies, shifted costs off of insurance companies and onto patients. This happened through expensive deductibles and copay costs.

Of those with medical debt, over half are insured.

The credit card industry is profiting from all of this debt. The research firm IBISworld found profits of as much as 29% being made by credit card companies on medical debt. At one time, publicly funded university hospitals and nonprofit hospitals would work out payment arrangements or forgive some low-income debt. Now, to make a quick buck, hospitals more and more “sell their debt” to shadowy collections companies that hound the patients for money.

One rape victim was illegally charged 130 dollars for a medical exam she received after a sexual assault. She was then hounded for years by debt collectors. She said she would often break down in tears on the phone. “I was being haunted by this zombie bill. I couldn’t make it stop.”

In March of 2022, major credit card companies said they would remove medical debt from credit card reports. What got less news coverage was that only debts under 500 dollars would be removed!

The average U.S. worker pays more for healthcare each year than in any other high-income country. Every human faces the risk of serious illness. In our profit-driven healthcare system, when illness strikes, money is made off of human suffering by hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and other healthcare companies. And if medical debt piles up, money is then made by credit card companies and shadowy debt collection companies.

Healthcare should be a human right—free of charge, excellent in quality, performed by well paid healthcare workers. In the richest country in the world, it is the bare minimum of what should be provided!