Coming to the decision to file for bankruptcy is an extremely difficult and personal one to make, but for many Americans, they have no other choice but to file. Why are so many of them at the point where bankruptcy is their only viable option? According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health, medical debt is the leading cause behind many of these bankruptcy filings.
The study was conducted by two medical professionals, two attorneys and a sociologist from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project. The data reported showed that two-thirds of filers cited medical debt as the reason for their filing. They surveyed 910 Americans who filed for bankruptcy between the years 2013 and 2016. Of those surveyed, 58.5 percent reported that medical expenses either “very much” or “somewhat” contributed to their bankruptcy case. Additionally, 44.3 percent of those surveyed cited a serious illness that resulted in work loss as a contributing factor. Two-thirds of those surveyed said that medical reasons were one of the factors that led to them filing for bankruptcy.
It is estimated that approximately 530,000 medical bankruptcies are filed annually. Even after the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), medical bankruptcies are still a common occurrence. High medical costs can lead to the person falling into financial difficulties, but so can losing time at work or even losing a job because of an illness or injury.
The study concluded that, even with the ACA, those who are considered “chronically poor,” tended to be the group that was most affected by the ACA coverage expansion. This group tends to also not have access to credit or assets to utilize to handle unexpected medical expenses. Many of these filers are already strapped financially and unable to make ends meet. Of those surveyed, 45 percent of them said they filed for bankruptcy due to foreclosure or the inability to pay their mortgages; 44.4 percent stated they were living beyond their means; and 24.4 percent of them were struggling after a divorce or separation.
According to Dr. David U. Himmelstein, distinguished professor at Hunter College and the founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, the lack of sufficient healthcare coverage is a leading cause these filings. Lack of savings is also a contributing factor. All it takes is for one major, unexpected medical crisis for a person to fall into a desperate financial situation where he or she cannot pay medical bills, and struggle to afford basic living expenses.
How is Medical Debt Handled in Bankruptcy?
In bankruptcy, medical debt is treated the same as credit card debt. Medical bills are listed as general unsecured debt and can be easily wiped out in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. Making the decision to file for bankruptcy is never an easy one. It can be difficult to get past some of the myths associated with filing for bankruptcy. Sometimes by waiting, an individual facing a lot of debt can find himself or herself in an even worse situation. Filing for bankruptcy can help protect valuable assets, including your home, pension, IRA and social security. It will put an end to wage garnishment and any lawsuit being filed to collect on the debt, thanks to the protections of the automatic stay.
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If you have questions on this topic or are in financial crisis and considering filing for bankruptcy, contact an experienced Miami bankruptcy attorney who can advise you of all of your options. As an experienced CPA as well as a proven bankruptcy lawyer, 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 McMaken 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 McMaken website at www.miamibankruptcy.com.