The most expensive place in the world to get sick is the United States. According to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the New York Times, 20% of people who own health insurance policies have still had difficulty paying a medical bill within the past year. 53% of people who do not have health insurance reported the same difficulty.
“The major impact is actually a pocketbook or economic impact: their ability to pay the rent or the mortgage or buy food,” said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Because medical care is so expensive here, consumers forego necessary services for as long as they possibly can. This leads to emergency room visits, the most expensive type of medical care available, and makes the problem worse. From there, consumers fight and scratch and claw to make ends meet, often through severe anxiety and depression, to keep paying their bills. From the New York Times article cited above:
“Among those who reported having problems paying their bills despite having insurance, 63 percent said they used up all or most of their savings; 42 percent took on an extra job or more work hours; 14 percent moved or took in roommates; and 11 percent turned to charity.”
Can bankruptcy help?
Medical debt is usually dischargeable in Chapter 7 or in Chapter 13. The key to a successful bankruptcy case is to imagine that all of your medical, credit card, and personal loan debt has been eliminated. Would your budget work moving forward? If so, you may be a good candidate for filing a bankruptcy case to resolve the debt issues. Bankruptcy is a tool which can be used to allocate more of your household budget toward housing, food, utilities, prescription drugs, and other necessities instead of continuing to pay the old debts with that same money.
It’s my medical debt. Shouldn’t I pay it?
I believe that people should pay their debts if they are able. If a consumer finds a million dollars buried in their backyard, the morally correct decision might be to pay back all of their old medical debts. However, many consumers face the choice of continuing to pay corporate creditors (hospitals, debt collectors, credit card companies, etc) with small payments month after month, or spend that same money on their family’s needs for housing, food, and medical care. In these situations, I strongly believe the ethical thing to do is to provide household necessities to a consumer’s family first, before considering making payments to their other creditors. In fact, North Carolina exemption laws dictate that children, spouses, and parents are entitled to keep 60 days of household wages necessary for the maintenance of their household. Bankruptcy is a tool which can enforce these exemption laws against greedy creditors attempting to take more than the law allows. Debt collectors are the primary culprit.
How can we reduce healthcare costs in the United States?
In my opinion, a single payer system that provides universal healthcare for all citizens in the United States of America would reduce the impact of corporate greed. Just like the right we have to attend 13 years of public school as children, and go to work using public roads as adults, medical care would become a right of every citizen and no longer be a source of anxiety for households trying to make ends meet. Hospitals, drug companies, and debt collectors would no longer be allowed to twist rules to maximize profits off of consumers who get sick. Bernie Sanders, a presidential candidate from Vermont, has proposed making the types of changes which would encourage people to get the medical care they need, when they need it. He is the only presidential candidate I know of who endorses this type of historic change already embraced by the vast majority of the richest countries in the world.
Are you having trouble with medical debt? If so, I strongly recommend meeting with a professional to discuss your situation confidentially. For those of you in Western North Carolina, I would be pleased to sit down with you in a free, initial bankruptcy consultation.
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