In Tennessee and other southern states, many individuals have diabetes or other chronic illnesses, with treatment costs contributing to high medical debt. A lack of adequate assistance from financial programs such as Medicaid has exacerbated the issue. The disease and treatment costs can cause individuals to suffer financially in various ways.
The Diabetes Belt
More than half of the counties in southern states that fall within the “Diabetes Belt” have past-due medical debt significantly above the national average. For example, 37% of Marlboro County, South Carolina citizens have medical debt in collections, compared to an average of 13% nationwide. Individuals who cannot pay their medical debt may need to seek relief in the form of bankruptcy.
Financial strain of chronic illness
Diseases like diabetes often contribute to medical debt due to requirements for medical checkups and medications. Patients often require checkups every six months with lab work and various ongoing treatments. For many individuals with diabetes in southern states, the medical costs accumulate quickly and often go unpaid. These individuals may have difficulty accessing needed medications due to the lack of affordability.
Area economic downturn
Some counties in the south have experienced an economic downturn that has created additional financial challenges for individuals with high medical costs due to diabetes. A decline in manufacturing jobs has contributed to rising poverty levels and increasing medical debt. Additionally, limited financial resources can restrict access to healthy food choices, which perpetuates a cycle of poor diabetes management and additional medical care needs.
Some research has shown that expanding the Medicaid program in certain states has helped individuals reduce their medical debt. Within the Diabetes Belt, some states opted not to expand their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and many of the 100 counties with the highest average medical debt are located in those states.
Due to economic difficulties and increased poverty, some individuals have fewer options to stay healthy and treat their diabetes. In some cases, bankruptcy can provide a resolution for individuals with high levels of medical debt.