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Nonwhite Consumers Are More Likely To Have Medical Debt Than White Consumers In Travis County

An ambulance in front of a hospital entrance.
Spencer Selvidge for KUT
A new study finds that medical debt disproportionately affects nonwhite households in Texas.

Nearly 1 in 3 Texans in neighborhoods of color have medical debt, according to a new study from the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin.

The study found medical debt affects about 26% of all Texas consumers, but there were massive disparities when researchers compared white consumers to nonwhite consumers in the state.

“As we started to dig into the numbers, we started noticing some really extreme discrepancies between racial groups having medical debt, as well as having insurance coverage,” Jonathan Lewis, a policy analyst with the CPPP, said.

According to the study, 29% of consumers in neighborhoods of color in Texas have medical debt that has been sent to collections agencies.

“This rate is six percentage points higher than the percent of consumers with medical debt in White neighborhoods,” the researchers wrote.

The study also found that those disparities are especially high in Travis County – where less than a quarter of white consumers have debt, while more than half of nonwhite consumers have debt.

“Travis County has the worst racial disparity of medical debt in collections among urban counties, with a 22 percentage point difference between neighborhoods of color and White neighborhoods owing medical debt,” the study found.

Mounting medical debt can compromise a patient’s health and a family’s financial security, researchers wrote. In some cases, medical debt can harm someone’s credit scores, which can affect housing and job opportunities.

Lewis said that over a long term, debt can inhibit a family’s ability to build wealth and pass that wealth to future generations.

“The reason that this is such a big concern for us is that medical debt is not just a stress of not being able to pay a bill and maybe having debt-collectors coming after you," Lewis said. "It impacts all aspects of a household’s life.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said 4.4 million Texans of color live in households with medical debt. The post also previously referred to households, rather than consumers. 

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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