When Americans think of a person trapped in enormous amounts of debt, inevitably they think of irresponsibility. They think of fast cars and fancy stereo equipment. They think of people living the high life who could not afford it. In short, they think of a deadbeat. If statistics are any real measure, this impression could merit a change – and a touch of sympathy.
Far from financial irresponsibility, medical expenses are among the most frequent causes of families falling into debt and eventually filing for bankruptcy. The precise percentage of medical bankruptcies is in dispute. However, it is generally acknowledged to be a significant number.
Estimates for the number of “medical bankruptcies” have a wide range. A Northwestern University researcher has placed the figure at 17 percent of all bankruptcies. A group of Harvard researchers have recently increased their estimate to more than 50 percent. According to a Federal Reserve report, households with high medical debt are 28 times as likely to file for bankruptcy as other households. Most recently, an August report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research estimated that one in seven Californians carries some form of medical debt. With the nation gripped in a discussion about public financing of medical care, the number of medical bankruptcies has become a topic of note.
Medical bankruptcy can arise in several ways. The most common and obvious is the medical bill charged to the ill patient. When the patient personally suffers a chronic disease, deals with a condition that requires expensive treatment, or must pay for pricey medication, then it can be easy to run up thousands of dollars in costs. Health insurance can help, but sometimes is not enough. However, there are other ways that medical expenses can drive a person or family into debt.
Many times the medical benefit is not for medical procedures performed on the person himself. They stem from helping to finance the medical care of a loved one. Sometimes this means caring for an elderly father or mother. Sometimes, tragically, this means caring for a sick child.
Also, some researchers describe “hidden costs” of medical bankruptcy. Often, these expenses consist of medical expenses placed on credit cards or paid on credit in some other way. This is an unwise thing to do. Once the expenses are placed onto the credit card, they become a target for interest and fees.
While medical expenses drive many people to bankruptcy, that is not the only option for handling overwhelming medical debt. Other options exist that can help a debtor take care of their debt before reaching that point. Among these methods are credit counseling, debt consolidation, and debt settlement. Each method can help debtors resolve debt and rebuild their financial health.
“Medical expenses are a common reason that people come to us,” said Heath Tudor, community liaison for Resqdebt, a debt settlement provider in Allen, Texas. “The unfortunate thing is that it randomly strikes good people. The fortunate thing is that it gives us the opportunity to help good people.”