Submitted by Rachel R on Thu, 07/24/2014 - 11:31am
Can filing bankruptcy when you owe medical bills impact your health care?
Image source: Flickr Creative Commons User COD Newsroom
Unaffordable medical bills are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in America. If you've got a pile of unpaid doctor and hospital bills that you can't afford, Chapter 7 will wipe them out – this is one type of unsecured bill that can be easily taken care of in bankruptcy. This can offer you instant peace of mind, but you may worry that a doctor, hospital or other medical practice can turn you away after you file bankruptcy. Here's what you need to know.
You can't be refused medical services because you filed bankruptcy. And even before you file bankruptcy but still have unpaid bills, you can't be turned away for certain services. Emergency rooms have to treat you even if you owe the hospital money and this still applies later after you've filed bankruptcy. If you show up in pain, bleeding, horribly sick or under other critical circumstances, emergency rooms are required to provide you care, so absolutely don't worry about this.
What If You Didn't Pay a Doctor You See Routinely?
If you have a primary care doctor, specialist or dentist that you didn't pay, they may not be happy to see you and doctors like this always have the option of saying they aren't taking new patients, have changed their policies or just don't have an available appointment. After all, these are small businesses that will feel the sting of an unpaid bill far more than a large hospital and may not want to deal with you after this. That's understandable.
If you owe a modest amount to a physician that you want to keep seeing after your bankruptcy, you can always voluntarily pay the bill even after your Chapter 7 discharges the bill as a goodwill gesture so they will continue to see you. But if it's not a doctor you're particularly attached to or were thinking about changing anyway, this may be the time to find another primary care physician, dentist, chiropractor or podiatrist. That way you don't get glares from the bookkeeper or staff when you check out and won't feel guilty.
Can You Pay Some Medical Bills and Not Others During Bankruptcy?
If you do want to keep seeing your doctor, the best strategy is to contact them and tell them you know you owe the debt, are filing bankruptcy, but will pay your bill after your bankruptcy is settled. This lets them know that you take their debt seriously and have the best intentions to pay them. This may allow you to keep making appointments and seeing them during the bankruptcy.
A note of caution, though. You don't want to pay the doctor prior to filing bankruptcy or after you file but before you get the discharge because this indicates that you are prioritizing one creditor over others and that's not legally allowed. It's called a preferential payment and if you do pay them during this period, the bankruptcy Trustee may actually make the doctor give the money back so the Trustee can decide who should have received the funds. This could actually make the situation worse because they waited for payment then had to give it back.
If you're overwhelmed with medical bills and other debts, contact the law offices of John T Orcutt to find out how Chapter 7 bankruptcy can wipe out all these bills so you can get a financial fresh start and the peace of mind that comes with it.
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