Debt Collection Fears Making Americans Sick
Study Shows Many Choosing to Pay Off Debts While Sacrificing Needed Health Care to Save Money
A recent study conducted by sociologists at the University of Michigan found that people who are ill and do not seek treatment because of the cost are more likely to have credit card debt than any other form of debt. The study, co-authored by Lucie Kalousova, Ph.D. and Sarah A. Burgard, Ph.D., found that individuals with credit card debt and medical debt were more likely to forgo medical care than those who were in debt as a result of student loans, housing loans and car loans.
More than 64% of those who were ill but had not seen a health care provider because of the cost reported that they were indebted to credit card companies. Nearly 58% of the same group said they already were dealing with medically related indebtedness.
Consumer advocates speculate that financially-distressed Americans would rather “work through” their health issues and skip a doctor’s visit in order to use the money to pay off debts such as high-interest credit card bills. For many it would be a much harder pill to swallow if they were late or missed a payment triggering annoying phone calls and harassment from debt collectors.
With so many Americans living paycheck to paycheck, the decision to forgo or significantly delay the treatment of illness is causing the sick to slow their recovery or become increasingly ill as their condition deteriorates. They also could end up paying much more to regain their health. Their productivity and income can be diminished. They also tend to put more strain on hospital emergency rooms and other public health facilities.
Experts, both financial and medical, remain sympathetic to the plight of the working American but encourage accessing health care when needed and being proactive in asking creditors to work with them on a modified payment schedule. While many credible debt collectors are willing to make alternative payment arrangements, more aggressive and unscrupulous debt collectors may ratchet up their efforts and violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) in the process.
Don’t let the prospect of debt collector harassment stop you from seeking the medical care you need. Under the FDCPA, consumers are entitled to free legal representation (the offending debt collector is mandated to pay by lay) and, in some cases, awarded up to $1,000 in damages. Call 1-800-NOT-FAIR today if you think you have been victimized.
“Debt and Forgone Medical Care,” co-authored by Lucie Kalousova, Ph.D. and Sarah A. Burgard, Ph.D., published in the April 2013 Journal of Health and Social Behavior.