A wide range of chronic conditions are contributing to Americans’ medical debt, affecting people of all income levels, new research has found.

While treatment for cancer and diabetes are well-known for being behind medical debt, a new study has found that other conditions such as heart disease, asthma, lung disease and mood disorders are also driving the debt.

Data from 9,174 households was analysed, with researchers dividing households into lower, middle and higher income levels.

They found the following conditions were most associated with medical debt:

  • Heart disease, asthma and anxiety disorders (in lower-income households)
  • Diabetes, lung disease, and mood disorders (in middle-income households)
  • Cancer, lung disease, arthritis, and mood disorders (in higher income households)

Lead author Irina Grafova, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health, said: “Medical debt has frequently been connected to cancer and, more recently, to diabetes. The important finding here is that medical debt is connected to a wide range of chronic conditions.

“The other important finding is that this connection between chronic disease and medical debt exists at all income levels. It is not confined to lower-income households. It also holds true for middle-income and higher-income households, so it really is a society-wide issue.”

The study also found that medical debt rates were:

  • 74% in lower-income households
  • 77% in middle-income households
  • 6 % in higher-income households

Assistant Professor Grafova said: “The pandemic itself and our response to it were so large and multifaceted that it’s impossible to predict. Did COVID-related health care costs and higher unemployment increase medical debt, or did stimulus payments and decreased expenditures on things like restaurants and vacations allow Americans to reduce their medical debt? We still don’t know the answers, but we should know them soon.”

The study has been published in Preventive Medicine.

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