As the cost of going to the doctor and getting medical treatment continues to rise a new report finds a growing number of New Jersey residents are struggling with significant medical debt.

New Jersey Citizen Action, in partnership with the HealthCare Value Hub at Altarum, has issued a report that finds almost 4 in 10 Garden State residents (38%) have overdue medical bills.

Laura Waddell, the health care program director at NJ Citizen Action said even though 96% of New Jersey residents have some form of medical insurance “nearly 3 in 10 respondents reported owing $5,000 or more in medical debt.”

The report finds 11% of Jersey residents have more than $10,000 in medical debt.

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Why is medical debt spiking?

She said New Jerseyans report a number of factors are causing problems.

“49% percent said their medical debt was incurred because their service was not covered, 33% said the deductible was too high,” she said.

The survey finds 36% of white respondents, 40% of Black respondents and almost half of Hispanics in New Jersey reported avoiding getting care because of medical debt.

She pointed out that Jersey residents who have this problem “do find themselves on the receiving end also in the receiving end of aggressive billing tactics.”

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Costs are too high

"For New Jerseyans who have one of the highest costs of living in the country, the need to address this growing medical debt crisis is greater than ever," Waddell said.

She noted medical debt may negatively impact residents’ physical health by incentivizing them to ration needed care for loved ones. More than 1 in 3 New Jersey respondents (36%) report that their medical debt has prevented them or someone living with them from seeking needed care.

“You might not think this kind of problem would be so great for people with insurance,” she said, “but clearly it is.”

After the report was released, Debbie White, the president of Health Professional and Allied Employees, said medical debt “is a scourge across the nation and New Jersey is not immune. This survey found that almost half of respondents with hospital-incurred medical debt were not informed by their hospital of its financial assistance plan or about charity care.”

She noted that “hospitals have a statutory obligation to inform every patient of possible financial assistance when receiving care. That information alone would prevent medical debt for so many New Jerseyans.”

Beth Beaudin-Seiler, the director of Healthcare Value Hub, said “the data upends any assumptions that medical debt is exclusive to individuals who are uninsured, in poor health or earning lower incomes. Given the health and financial impacts of medical debt, policymakers should continue to prioritize policies that address medical debt across a broad spectrum of individuals.”

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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