Abstract: (Withdrawn) Can Fintech Rescue Workers Struggling with Medical Debt? (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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(Withdrawn) Can Fintech Rescue Workers Struggling with Medical Debt?

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Laveen B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Mathieu Despard, PhD, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC
Sally A. Hageman, PhD, Assistant Professor of Social Work, Idaho State University, Pocatello
Maudia Ahmad, MSW, PhD Student, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Greensboro
Background: Nearly a third (31%) of all workers in the U.S. are covered by a high deductible health plan (HDHP) through their employer (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2020). Frontline workers enrolled in HDHPs may find it hard to come up with the cash to pay for healthcare expenses until they reach their deductible, especially workers who already have unpaid bills. Healthcare cost burden and medical debt is associated with lower healthcare utilization (Al Rowas et al., 2017; Brot-Goldberg et al., 2017; Wharam et al., 2018). As individuals defer healthcare due to costs, they may forgo important treatment that may result in poor health outcomes and future catastrophic care events. We examine a novel workplace solution – MedPut, a digital financial application that helps employees pay medical bills and other health care costs using interest-free payment plans and bill negotiation services.

Data and Method: Data for this study came from MedPut administrative data for 4,317 employees in 21 companies and organizations who were invited to use MedPut and a survey completed by MedPut enrollees. Survey questions asked about employees' experiences with medical bills and debt, use of health care, general household financial health, and demographic characteristics. Probit regression models using covariance control and robust standard errors with employer as a clustering variable to produce predictive margins to examine registration choice, characteristics of submitted bills, and workers’ financial difficulties and delayed or deferred healthcare due to cost concerns.

Findings: The average age of workers was 42.79 (SD = 12.69). Over a third of employees had salaries below $40,000 and had dependents. Almost a third of workers registered for MedPut, with middle-range salary ($40,000 - $69,999), dependents, and work for a small employer predicting registration choice. Most employees (82%) who used MedPut did so only once; most cases were for past-due accounts (77%). The mean amount of submitted bills was $1,379 (SD = $1,032.09), 37% of which were discounted. Over half (52.46%) of users said they had problems paying a medical bill within the prior 12 months compared to 18.55% of non-users (p < .001). Users were also more likely to put off medical or dental care (63.33%) due to cost concerns compared to 32.79% (p < .001) of non-users.

Significance: This study offers a unique perspective on a social determinant of health – the problems workers with HDHPs have paying for healthcare, especially workers with family coverage. That most bills submitted to MedPut were for delinquent accounts reflects the growing problem of medical debt in the U.S. (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 2022) and suggest that healthcare providers are doing a poor job of offering financial assistance such as charity care and no-interest payment plans. Most importantly, that difficulties managing healthcare expenses discourage workers from seeking needed care suggests the need for more significant healthcare reform than has been manifested through the Affordable Care Act.