Insured workers report thousands of dollars in medical debt

Dive Brief:

  • Forty-three percent of workers with employer-sponsored insurance have been touched by medical debt, highlighting a need for employers to focus on physical and financial wellness, according to healthcare advocacy collective Goodroot.
  • Among those who have carried debt, 52% reported shouldering more than $2,500, according to the organization’s survey of 2,000 U.S. adults. Forty-five percent of respondents with debt said it hampered their ability to cover daily living expenses, and 92% said they neglected to receive healthcare to avoid further costs.
  • Perhaps counterintuitively, younger workers were more likely to have medical debt. “One would assume that older workers, who may have more health issues, would have greater prevalence and amount of medical debt,” Goodroot CEO Mike Waterbury said in a statement. “But our data shows that younger workers bear a greater burden on average.”

Dive Insight:

More than a quarter of workers are experiencing at least one form of healthcare-related financial hardship, a study published in the journal Health Affairs revealed last year. Researchers found that strain was especially pronounced for low-income workers.

A January 2024 report on employer-sponsored health insurance premium increases and their relationship to inequality suggested that families relying on employer-sponsored health insurance have lost about $125,000 over the last three decades.

“Costs of employer-sponsored health care benefits have increased faster than workers’ wages for several decades,” researchers noted in the JAMA Network report. (By Mercer’s count, healthcare costs rose by 5.2% throughout the past year.)

Researchers also said health insurance premium costs have contributed to disparities in income and overall wage stagnation. They also acknowledged that the toll of rising premiums is higher for Black and Hispanic families than it is for White families.

Waterbury called the act of ensuring the physical and financial health of employees, an “essential responsibility of employers.” He also highlighted the business case for helping workers reduce their debt.

“When employees are struggling with a massive, unpayable medical bill, it not only puts tremendous stress on their family, but also harms their ability to be productive and contribute to company culture,” he said.