Despite having health insurance, younger generations of Americans find themselves being driven into medical debt.
A new analysis from HealthCare.com’s Medical Debt survey found that one-in-four Gen Zers (25 percent) and millennials (23 percent) with medical debt skipped rent or mortgage payments because of their debt.
The analysis further revealed that more than half of millennials (52 percent) and Gen Xers (48 percent) with medical debt said their credit scores have suffered. Two-in-three Gen Zers (68 percent) who have health insurance but still incurred medical debt reported that their coverage wasn’t enough to pay for services received.
The findings underscore challenges younger generations face, particularly young individuals of color.
Gen Zers were born between 1997 and 2012. Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996 while Gen X individuals were born between 1965 and 1980.
“For people of color, the lack of access to generational wealth further compounds the challenges of employment and insurance coverage,” said Eva Stahl, the director of policy at RIP Medical Debt.
“People of color are more likely to carry medical debt compared to their white counterparts,” Stahl said.
According to the U.S. Census, nearly 28 percent of Black households and just under 22 percent of Hispanic households had medical debt compared to 17 percent of white non-Hispanic households.
According to the Urban Institute, one-in-four people with medical debt in collection count as people of color.
Stahl also pointed out studies that show that while 18 percent of people nationwide have medical debt, bills are concentrated among people living in the South and in lower-income communities.
“Medical debt prevents young people from being participants in economic growth – if you are saddled with debt, you cannot invest in housing, grow a family and contribute to your community,” Stahl said.
“These barriers are compounded for people of color who are more likely to hold low-wage jobs, lack access to generational wealth and are more likely to struggle with chronic health issues. As a result, medical debt remains an urgent issue in this country and requires policy intervention to make healthcare more equitable, affordable and accessible,” she said.
Healthcare.com also found that debt triggers vary by generation.
For example, 68 percent of Gen Zers who have health insurance but still incurred medical debt said their coverage wasn’t enough for the services they received – or they received the services out-of-network.
Fewer than half of other generations reported a similar experience.
The analysis also found that men remain more likely to crowdfund medical debt.
Thirteen percent of men used a crowdfunding source to pay medical debt compared to 8 percent of women.
Further, 15 percent of men used their retirement savings for medical debt, compared to 11 percent of women.
Individuals in lower-income brackets were most likely to find themselves harassed by debt collectors.
At least half have had their bills sent to debt collectors among those with medical debt and an income below $10,000 (60%) or between $10,000-$24,999 (52%).
Twenty-three percent of those with an income under $10,000 say they will turn to crowdfunding to obtain funds to pay their medical debt.
The most common source of funds for repaying debts among the lower-income group is their salary and those with lower incomes were more likely to feel anxious about their medical debt.
“In many ways, medical debt is the result of the economic world and healthcare world colliding,” Stahl said.
“For younger generations, particularly millennials and Gen Zers, medical debt is a double whammy. First, young people, ages 18-26, face greater job insecurity – and many were still recovering from the Great Recession when millennials lost twice as much of their wealth relative to baby boomers.”
“These groups of younger workers rely heavily on the gig economy and their earnings fluctuate. In addition, they are more likely to be uninsured and have limited access to affordable health coverage. Finally, younger people are also more likely to hold significant debt obligations – from student debt to credit card debt – relative to older generations,” Stahl added.