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What to Do if You Have Medical Debt

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About a quarter of adults ages 18 to 64 reported having past-due medical debt in 2015.

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Yana Paskova for The New York Times

The share of people with medical debt has fallen in recent years, but past-due medical bills remain a stubborn burden, especially among younger adults, according to reports published this month by the Urban Institute.

“It’s more common than you think,” said Signe-Mary McKernan, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a think tank based in Washington.

About a quarter of adults ages 18 to 64 reported having past-due medical debt in 2015, down from nearly 30 percent in 2012, the researchers found. (The institute’s research was funded by a grant from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Investor Education Foundation.)

But millennials and Generation Xers — people ages 18 to 50 — reported comparatively higher levels of medical debt, Ms. McKernan noted in a related brief. About 25 percent of this group had past-due medical debt in 2015, compared with 20 percent of those aged 51 to 64 and 10 percent of people over 65.

While people over 65 are more likely to have health problems, they have access to health insurance coverage through the federal Medicare program, Ms. McKernan said. Baby boomers are also more likely to have health insurance, which may contribute to their lower rates of medical debt.

The higher proportion of younger adults with medical debt was a bit surprising, Ms. McKernan said, because they tend to have fewer health problems. But they are less likely to have health insurance, she noted, and have not been accumulating wealth as quickly as earlier generations.

Millennials also tend to have a lower level of financial knowledge, which may make them more vulnerable to medical debt, another institute analysis found.

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