The Medical Debt Crisis: Americans still struggling to pay off Massive Healthcare bills

Recent data shows that Americans are forgoing medical care and using extreme measures in an effort to pay off their medical debt. Although, the Affordable Care Act is helping reduce the burden of medical debt for some American consumers- for states that have not expanded Medicaid, millions of Americans still lack insurance and many of the affordable plans offer minimal coverage. The result is that in 2014, 64 million people were struggling with medical debt, the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States.

Two surveys (in 2008 and 2012) explored the finances of lower to middle-income households carrying credit card debt. It was found that households carrying medical debt on their credit cards were more likely to take extreme measures to pay off their debts and forgo necessary medical treatment. Even for the insured, medical debt can negatively impact household finances.

In the 2008 and 2012 surveys, the average total credit card debt fell from $11,019 in 2008 to $8,762 in 2012, a 20 percent decline. Medical debt alone fell from $2,055 in 2008 to $1,679 in 2012, an 18 percent decline. A possible reason for the decline could be the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (CARD Act). Studies show that the CARD Act dramatically reduced fees for credit card users. Research by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests the CARD act reduced hidden fees, saving consumers billions of dollars. It is also possible the Affordable Care Act played a role along with the improving economy.

Costly medical procedures can quickly lead to a household’s debt spiraling out of control. A key contributor is the out-of-pocket costs, not covered by insurance. The survey revealed dental expenses were the most frequently cited as a contributor to credit card debt; of those respondents who report they experienced a dental expense, a large share said that the expense contributed to their credit card debt. Many basic insurance plans do not include dental.  Emergency room visits and purchasing prescription medication contributed to nearly half of the reported credit card debt.

There are some legislative options in the works. The Medical Bankruptcy Fairness Act, proposed by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), would help families dealing with medical debt keep their homes by providing them with bankruptcy protection, and would forgive student debt. It also waives the requirement that individuals who file for debt relief receive credit counseling, if the debt is medical-related. The Medical Debt Responsibility Act, introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), would require that fully paid medical debt be removed from credit reports within 45 days.

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Those who have experienced illness or injury and found themselves overwhelmed with medical debt should contact an experienced Miami bankruptcy attorney. In bankruptcy, medical bills are considered general unsecured debts just like credit cards. This means that medical bills do not receive priority treatment and can easily be discharged in bankruptcy. Bankruptcy laws were created to help people resolve overwhelming debt and gain a fresh financial start. Bankruptcy attorney Timothy Kingcade knows how to help clients take full advantage of the bankruptcy laws to protect their assets and get successful results. Since 1996 Kingcade & Garcia, P.A. has been helping people from all walks of life build a better tomorrow. Our attorneys’ help thousands of people every year take advantage of their rights under bankruptcy protection to restart, rebuild and recover. The day you hire our firm, we will contact your creditors to stop the harassment. You can also find useful consumer information on the Kingcade & Garcia website at www.miamibankruptcy.com.