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PORTLAND --- Even before the COVID-19 pandemic crashed into Oregon, medical debt was a severe problem, playing a role in over half of all of Oregon’s bankruptcies in 2019. On Thursday, OSPIRG released a report, Unhealthy Debt: Medical costs and bankruptcies in Oregon, that found at least 60 percent of Oregon’s bankruptcies included medical debt in 2019. The report explores the reasons for Oregon’s medical debt problems and presents policy solutions, such as a public insurance option, that could help Oregonians keep their health without putting their personal finances at risk.
“Soaring medical costs are leading too many Oregon families and individuals into severe economic hardship and even financial ruin,” said OSPIRG High Value Health Care Advocate Maribeth Guarino. “Bankruptcy filings provide a unique window into the extent and severity of medical debt in Oregon. But bankruptcies only represent the tip of the iceberg of the financial strain health care costs impose on Oregon households.”
The report’s topline findings included:
Sixty percent of Oregon’s bankruptcy filings during 2019 featured medical debt, with a median cost of $2,326.
Of those bankruptcy filers who had medical debt, over 15% reported they had more than $10,000 in medical debt.
The most frequently listed creditors were the issuer of a health-care-specific credit card, and then big hospital/provider networks. The report includes network-specific debt information.
To address medical debt, Unhealthy Debt makes recommendations for Oregon’s state Legislature. For maximum immediate impact, Oregon should implement a public option health plan that lowers costs. The state recently passed a bill that ordered state agencies to design a public option plan, and to submit it to the Legislature for approval in 2022.
The report also recommends lawmakers pass legislation to lower the cost of prescription drugs, increase oversight of premium price increases and limit consolidation in the health care industry.
“We desperately need to enact policies that address health care’s skyrocketing costs. A public option would go a long way to make sure that Oregonians stay healthy and out of debt,” said Guarino.
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