Feeling Sick? Medical Bills Push Millions to the Brink Skip to main content

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Feeling Sick? Medical Bills Push Millions to the Brink


Are medical bills and health care costs making you sick? Join the crowd.

A recent study from the Commonwealth Fund found nearly two-thirds of American adults—an estimated 116 million people—are buckling under the weight of medical bills, going without much-needed care because of cost, are uninsured for a time, or remain underinsured.

As a result, more adults are not only experiencing cost-related delays in getting needed care, but are also struggling to pay unexpected or accumulating medical bills. Currently, forty-one percent of working-age adults, or 72 million people, reported a problem paying their medical bills or had accrued medical debt, up from 34 percent (58 million) in 2005.

Medical debt can take the wind out of anyone’s financial sails. And unfortunately, horror stories are common. Take for example a recent story regaled from the Austin-American Statesman of woman who reconnected with an old high school flame in middle age only to lose him to liver disease a short time later. Struggling to pay his medical bills, she eventually filed for bankruptcy, but not before she lost her home.

Medical bills are a leading cause of financial stress in this country; exacerbated by the fact that most people wait too long before they get help taking a serious inventory of their financial picture. In some cases you can restructure or even settle medical debt before it means losing your savings, your home and a hefty chunk of your financial viability; but you should move fast.

Once your medical bills go to a debt collection agency its much more difficult to negotiate a settlement. If you see that your medical bills are causing you to fall behind on payments for essentials like housing, food and emergency savings, it’s time to seek help from a professional debt counselor.

However, sometimes restructuring or settling medical debt can have a deleterious effect on debtor credit scores, also affecting your ability to obtain home loans or credit cards. An article in the Dallas Morning News shared the story of a man who suffered a heart attack during a lapse in his health insurance. Because of a gap in his insurance, the 59-year-old was hit with medical bills totaling more than $140,000—all of which went to collections when the man could not afford to pay. Eventually, the man was able to pay off his medical debt when the hospital reduced the bill; however, the medical debt’s impact on his credit remained. He paid his debt and his credit score still dropped significantly. Today, he’s having difficulty refinancing his home and is still on the hook for his surgery.

Might bankruptcy have been the better option? Possibly. With millions of Americans suffering from medical debt, much of that debt has gone to collections. Collections action on medical debt remains on a consumer’s credit report for 7 years and many lenders consider the medical debt when determining the consumer’s creditworthiness. And unlike the man from the previous story, most consumers are simply unable to repay medical debt as well as their other mounting financial obligations.

Bankruptcy has the effect of wiping out the obligations to repay unsecured debt, including medical debt, giving the debtor an opportunity for a stress-free financial fresh start. As an added bonus, a creditor might be more willing to lend to a debtor who have discharged his debt obligations in bankruptcy than to a debtor who is still obligated to pay thousands towards medical debt obligations.

For more information regarding the benefits of bankruptcy, visit The Law Offices of John T. Orcutt online.

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