Medical Debt Unchanged Under Massachusetts Health Law0
Accounts still sent to medical collection agencies as patients struggle to pay for health care.
Before the creation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Massachusetts passed its own version of healthcare reform in 2006. Like the ACA, the Bay State’s health law was designed to make health insurance more accessible to residents. This was meant to relieve families of the responsibility of paying for the full cost of medical care and even reduce the number of patients being sent to a medical collection agency for inability to pay. However, recent data shows that little change has come about as a result of Massachusetts’ health law as far as the number of patients in medical collections over unpaid debt.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation released a report earlier this year titled “Health Reform in Massachusetts As of Fall 2010: Getting Ready for the Affordable Care Act & Addressing Affordability.” According to the report, in fall 2010 one in five nonelderly Massachusetts residents reported having medical debt. For most, the debts were for less than $2,000; however, 5.9 percent had debts surpassing $10,000.
Additionally, 28.3 percent of surveyed individuals reported financial difficulties as a result of health care spending. For some families this led to fewer visits to the doctor in order to curtail spending. When a patient chooses not to go to the doctor due to financial reasons, it can lead to a worsening health condition. Eventually, when medical attention can no longer be avoided, the patient might end up at a hospital emergency room facing higher medical costs.
Despite this, many low-income patients still try to avoid going to the doctor unless it is a true emergency. In Massachusetts, one in five lower-income adults reported having unmet medical needs due to unaffordable medical costs; meanwhile, only one in ten higher-income individuals reported the same. The numbers show that even under Massachusetts’ new health law, medical debt is still a problem, and the number of patients dealing with medical collections agencies has not gone down.