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What is the total amount of medical debt held by all Americans combined?

Published April 4, 2021

We do not know the exact amount of medical debt held by all Americans, but we can make an estimate based on the data we do have. The best source of data on medical debt in America is the 2020 Commonwealth Survey which found that 23% percent of adults had some medical debt they were repaying over time.

There are around 213 million adults and therefore around 46 million adults with medical debt. These numbers are very approximate, but they are close enough for a rough estimate.

Of the 46 million adults with any medical debt, we do not know the average balance. But we do know the breakdown of balance ranges, again from the commonwealth survey:

Debt Range Number of adults in this group Maximum possible debt in this group
under $2,000 19,780,000 $39,560,000,000.00
$2,000-$4,000 9,660,000 $38,640,000,000.00
$4,000-$8,000 7,820,000 $62,560,000,000.00
$8,000-$10,000 1,840,000 $18,400,000,000.00
over $10,000 5,520,000 $165,600,000,000.00 (assuming $30k each)
Total medical debt in America: $324,760,000,000.00

To arrive at this number we make the conservative assumption that every person in any debt range carries the maximum amount of debt in that range. So if someone is in the 4-8 thousand range, they are assumed to have $8,000 in debt. This gives us the upper bound, which is the thing we really need to know to determine the cost of a debt repayment program. We can run this same calculation to calculate the lower bound (about $120 billion) but that number is not useful to us here.

The hardest part of making this estimate is the roughly 5.5 million Americans in the "more than $10K" row, because this row has no theoretical maximum. Here I've made the conservative assumption that everyone in that range has a medical debt load of $30K, which brings the total medical debt load of all Americans to $324 billion. The total number swings wildly depending on what you assume for this row. If you assume the average debt load in this row is $11K, then the total for all Americans is about $220 billion. If you assume the average is $100K, then the total is around $700 billion.

So even making some preposterous assumptions that inflate the debt load beyond all reason, it remains well, well within the means of the super wealthy to extinguish the full amount. Again, there's a lot of inexactitude in these numbers, but for a fuller discussion of this issue, see numbers that don't matter.