Medical debt

OSPIRG released a report Thursday, Sept. 9, detailing medical debt in Oregon and how it can lead Oregonians to bankruptcy. The report, “Unhealthy Debt: Medical costs and bankruptcies in Oregon,” states at least 60 percent of Oregon’s consumer bankruptcies included medical debt in 2019.

In a press conference Sept. 9, health care advocates discussed the medical debt situation and offered ways to address the problem.

Maribeth Guarino, health care advocate with OSPIRG, said the nonprofit advocacy group looked at 8,000 bankruptcy filings in 2019. The report gives insight into the burden of medical debt.

“This report shows that high health care costs are not a problem limited to a single geographic area or economic demographic,” Guarino said. “It's everywhere and we have to do something about it.”

The report examined nearly $30 million in medical debt, Guarino added.

“Our report shows that the average medical debt was $2,362,” Guarino said. “Over 600 people had $10,000 or more in medical debt.”

Medical costs are increasing. In a poll released last May by OSPIRG, 30 percent of Oregon voters reported seeing an increase in their medical costs in the last 12 months.

“We desperately need to enact policies to address healthcare skyrocketing costs,” Guarino said. “For example, we could provide a public health insurance option that provides consumers a low cost health insurance choice. We can also lower prescription drug costs so that care or treatment is not cost-prohibitive.”

Caitlin Costello, a student at Portland State University, got health insurance seven years ago and broke her elbow shortly after.

“I had gone without insurance for almost eight years,” Costello said of growing up. “It really formed the way my family worked for a long time. We avoided anything that increased risk for medical bills.”

While in college, Costello could not afford insurance at first. She was able to get insurance seven years ago before her injury.

“I was still in the same mentality as before,” Costello said. “I refused an ambulance, I waited almost three hours for family to come get me.”

Costello said she knew it would be worse to pay for ‘extras’ or ‘luxuries.’ She refused pain medication upon arrival. During the entire process, she asked about cost and whether it was covered by insurance.

Costello said her medical bills accumulated to $20,000 with $4,000 she had to pay out of pocket.

“At the time, I was living paycheck to paycheck and desperately trying to get out of my situation,” Costello said.

Costello is in school full time now and has health insurance. She said she appreciates the school has options but even those are not readily available.

Guarino said the next step for OSPIRG is sharing the report with every lawmaker they can. View the report at


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