Coronavirus Update: Number of Americans with medical debt fell 18% between 2020 and 2022, thanks to COVID relief funds and expanded Obamacare, report finds


The number of Americans with medical debt on their credit reports fell by 8.2 million, or about 18%, between 2020 and 2022, according to a report Tuesday from the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Associated Press reported. 

White House officials said separately that the drop likely stems from pandemic relief funds and the expansion of an Obama-era law that added 4.2 million people to the rolls of those with some form of health insurance.

Communities such as Chicago, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Toledo, Ohio, are using $16 million from 2021 pandemic relief funding to buy and forgive medical debt. So far, the spending plans are eliminating $1.5 billion in medical debt, a ratio of about 100 to 1 for the expenditures by the local governments.

The CFPB has also been working to reduce medical debt, and the major credit-rating agencies said last year they will no longer include in their reports medical debts below $500 or debts that have been repaid.

They will also further extend the time it takes to add medical debt to reports to one year from six months, in order to give people more time to repay the debt before it damages their credit scores.

The White House said the reduction in debt could ease fears about medical bills that discourage people from making doctor’s appointments and filling prescriptions.

The news comes as the seven-day average of new U.S. COVID cases continues to fall. It stood at 39,199 on Tuesday, according to a New York Times tracker, down 13% from two weeks ago. The daily average for hospitalizations was down 11% to 28,522. The average for deaths was 428, down 13% from two weeks ago. 

Cases are currently flat in Alaska and rising in 24 states, led by New Hampshire, where they are up 159% from two weeks ago. On a per capita basis, Alabama has the most cases, at 29 per 100,000 residents, the tracker shows.

Coronavirus update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• Chinese senior citizens singing the communist anthem protested in the city of Wuhan on Wednesday over benefit cuts, in a rare confrontation with the authoritarian state, the AP reported. The demonstration was the latest sign of economic pain caused by China’s now-abandoned zero-COVID policy and the drop in local government funds exacerbated by the collapse of major players in the real-estate industry. In Wuhan, the city where COVID-19 was first detected in late 2019, police lined up in multiple rows, some locking arms, while hundreds of mostly elderly protesters spilled onto the main road, shouting complaints.

• The European Medicines Agency is expecting COVID vaccination campaigns to be conducted once a year, similar to the approach with flu inoculation, it said on Wednesday, as Reuters reported. Though the COVID-causing virus is not yet behaving like a seasonal virus with winter waves in temperate climates, the EMA’s head of health threats and vaccines strategy, Marco Cavaleri, told a news briefing that “this might be the direction it will be going.” That would mirror the plan in the U.S., where experts expect an annual combined COVID/flu jab will become the norm.

• Some 22 months after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen admitted to the New York Times that she had negotiated a COVID-19 vaccine deal with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla via text messages, the newspaper is suing the commission over its refusal to make the texts public, website Fierce Pharma reported. While the lawsuit was filed on Jan. 25 and listed on the European Court of Justice’s public website on Monday, Feb. 13, none of the documents related to the case are available to the public. Two people familiar with the suit confirmed it to Politico.

Here’s what the numbers say:

The global tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases topped 673.2 million on Tuesday, while the death toll rose above 6.85 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 102.9 million cases and 1,115,018 fatalities.

The CDC’s tracker shows that 229.8 million people living in the U.S., equal to 69.2% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had their primary shots.

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