Americans continue to pile up medical debt

The typical American is burdened with an ever-increasing medical debt and receives little relief from providers in the way of healthcare price transparency, according to a new study by the consumer counseling firm NerdWallet.

American consumers are caught between a financial rock and a hard place when it comes to healthcare services, according to the San Francisco-based NerdWallet. It noted that between 2010 and 2013, Americans' median income dipped $2,300. Yet at the same time, their healthcare expenses rose by more than $1,800.

Partly as a result, medical bills lead all categories of debt in collections. About 20 percent of adults in the U.S. will be contacted this year about a medical debt, and such debts account for just under 38 percent of all money paid to debt collection firms.

NerdWallet also commissioned a poll by Harris Interactive to accompany its study. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed said they had received a medical bill that was more than they expected, while 73 percent said if they had more information on their medical charges in advance, they would be able to make better financial decisions.

However, price transparency has been elusive for most patients in the United States. A joint study issued earlier this year by Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute concluded that 90 percent of all states fail in providing price transparency in healthcare delivery. A separate 2013 study by Catalyst for Payment Reform gave failing grades in price transparency to 29 states.

"The system Americans trust for their medical care is not very trustworthy when it comes to providing price transparency for procedures and error-free billing," Christina LaMontagne, a NerdWallet general manager who authored the study, said in an announcement. "Many Americans think they are getting the best care in the world, and yet the American household is more indebted to the medical system than ever before."

To learn more:
- read the NerdWallet study (.pdf)
- check out the NerdWallet announcement