Diagnosis of debt
Patients stricken with soaring medical debt

About this project

Medical debt is at an all-time high in the United States, affecting about one in four adults under 65. Americans are being hit by a combination of higher health costs, unemployment and cutbacks in employer-provided insurance. To cope, financially strapped patients are turning to payday loans and credit cards to pay off their medical bills. Hospitals, meanwhile, are also squeezed trying to collect millions of dollars in bad debt. Some turn to collection agencies or, in a few cases, sell off patients’ debt on the markets, Wall Street-style. But hospitals’ collection rates aren’t what you might expect. So far, the government isn’t doing much to help. California has regulations in place to help protect some patients from medical debt, but many consider them weak on enforcement.  And while the federal health care law could bring some relief, implementation is still a few years away – if the measure survives at all.

Stories

Diagnosis of Debt: Patients battle mounting bills

Last year about one in four adults under 65 reported having medical debt, an all-time high for the country. That’s because health care costs continue to rise at the same time people are losing their jobs and health coverage.

KQED's Forum: Reporter Kelley Weiss discusses medical debt

Broadcast reporter Kelley Weiss was a guest on KQED Public Radio's Forum to discuss medical debt. An increasing number of Americans say they're being pushed into financial ruin by medical debt. Some 20 percent of those seeking financial counseling...

Resources

HospitalBillHelp.org: Information about California’s Hospital Fair Pricing Act, how to manage medical debt

Diagnosis of Debt: Hospitals face challenges getting paid

If you look closely, beyond the white coats and operating rooms, you'll find your hospital is a debt collector chasing millions in unpaid bills. At Sutter General Hospital in Sacramento, on a floor most people will never see, Myranda Aguilar works...

Understanding cost of care key to avoiding debt for patients, hospitals

One of the most promising new approaches to help put the brakes on soaring medical debt is to let patients know in advance of a hospital visit how much their care will cost, and how much they’ll have to personally pay.

Diagnosis of Debt: Will help come from government?

We’ve heard a lot about how medical debt is at an all-time high and hurting patients and hospitals alike. So what role does the government have – if any – in protecting patients and hospitals from bad debt? It’s not just a question of should the...

Diagnosis of Debt: Protect yourself from medical debt

The California Report's host Rachel Myrow and Kelley Weiss talk about tips for avoiding medical debt burdens.

Patient uses law to secure discount on hospital bill

After trying for months to get some relief on $72,000 in medical debt, Andy Gee has made some progress.  

Authors

Kelley Weiss

Broadcast reporter Kelley Weiss is based in our Sacramento office where she’s helping lead the center’s expansion into public broadcasting. Her stories have appeared on NPR, Marketplace, The World, KQED Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio and World Vision Report. She’s produced series about the illegal sale of prescription drugs at swap meets and preventable patient deaths and money mismanagement in Missouri’s mental health system. She won a 2009 national Edward R. Murrow award for investigative reporting and has received several honors in the Association of Health Care Journalists awards competition. She was named a Livingston Finalist in 2011 for a multi-platform project about how tribal sovereignty makes it nearly impossible for mothers to collect child support. Weiss previously worked as a health care reporter at Capital Public Radio in Sacramento and KCUR in Kansas City. Her work has also appeared in Reuters, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Center for Investigative Reporting. She’s completed a health reporting fellowship from the Association of Health Care Journalists and has a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.

Project Partners

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