Surgeries often come with a variety of complications, including challenging physical therapy and alternative, doctor-ordered regimens. Yet millions of Americans also face medical debt post-surgery — debt that can linger for years after a medical procedure. This type of financial predicament is no stranger to the state of Mississippi, which is known for having the highest medical debt in the country. While reasons why so many in the state are affected by overdue bills are complex, some experts point to limited insurance coverage and the debt that ultimately affects hospitals.
An article in The Atlantic highlights the growing issue of medical debt in America, and how the South is especially affected by the prevalence of unpaid medical bills. According to article, nearly one in four American adults under the age of 65 lives with medical debt. Furthermore, 37 percent of Mississippians aged 18 to 64 carry medical debt. The Atlantic also points out that not all states expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, which could account for the alarming number of Mississippi residents living with debt. Another reason for crippling debt in this region could be high deductibles and co-pays, balance billing or simply that some services are not included in insurance plans.
If Mississippi’s lack of coverage regarding the Affordable Care Act does, in fact, correlate directly with high medical debt in the state, then what groups are affected? PBS News shows that the middle class suffers the most from medical debt, and that many in the state are even avoiding doctors altogether as a result. PBS goes on to report that individual households are not the only victims of medical debt, and that hospitals receive a hefty financial blow, as well; when individuals cannot pay their deductibles, they likely also cannot afford to pay hospitals. While the numbers of those living with medical debt are still high, state officials are currently working with hospitals to develop alternative payment plans and other ways to reduce the number of unpaid bills.