Chrystal McKay knew enough about medical care costs that she skipped the ambulance ride after a car accident. A friend drove her to the emergency room.
That saved her one bill, but she faces another for more than $20,000 after her ER visit. The 29-year-old Stockton, California, woman must balance paying her debt with getting care for a sprained shoulder that may need surgery: “I have to weigh the pros and cons. I’m already $20,000 in debt, and any more treatment will just put me more in debt.”
Uninsured at the time and facing a bill she doesn’t know how to handle, McKay finds herself in a position familiar to many in her generation. If she can’t cover the cost, her bill may wind up in collections.
No matter your age or insurance status, there are ways to make medical debt more manageable, whether you just got the bill or it’s already in collections.
Medical collections peak in late 20s
Young adults incur medical collections debt at a higher rate than older age groups, according to a study published in Health Affairs, a health policy journal.
The report looked at 2016 data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Consumer Credit Panel. It found that the frequency of medical debt in collections peaked at 11.3 percent, for people age 27, and stayed near that level until the mid-40s — even though medical spending in general is low for people in their 20s. The median amount in collections also peaked at age 27, at $684. In contrast, people in their 60s had higher rates of medical spending but fewer medical collections.
That puts millennials — those born 1981-1996 — in the crosshairs. “There are a number of things that add up that make younger adults more prone to this kind of debt,” says economist Ben Ippolito, one of the study’s authors.