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24 Sep 2013

Medical Debt and Bankruptcy

We've all heard the statistics about job loss and credit card spending, and many believe these are the main roads to bankruptcy. During the recession, many families faced extended unemployment, which led to foreclosure and enormous debt loads. Perhaps this explains why unemployment is often touted as an obvious bankruptcy culprit. Many people are surprised to learn that the most common cause of bankruptcy in America is not unemployment or credit card spending; it is medical debt. When an unexpected emergency comes up and a family is uninsured, medical debt is enough to wipe out their assets immediately. A recent report from the American Journal of Medicine said more than 60% of bankruptcy filings were directly resulting from unforeseen medical bills. Not only are these bills expensive; they also involve long-term costs that can push a family's finances over the cliff.


Is all medical debt incurred by the uninsured?

Surprisingly, many of the recent bankruptcy filings were from people who had some form of insurance, but not enough. As if the hospital bills are not enough, serious illnesses often require missed time at work for the family breadwinners, which can be debilitating all by itself. Many of the more affordable insurance policies have high co-payments, exclusions and deductibles, plus other coverage loopholes.

If you are struggling under the weight of overwhelming hospital charges, doctor bills or any other kind of medical debt, bankruptcy may be the only reasonable solution. Depending on the type of bankruptcy you choose, your bills could be eliminated entirely or significantly reduced. Of course, bankruptcy is not without its challenges. It can have a long-lasting impact on your creditworthiness and it could complicate many areas of your financial life.

Hiring a bankruptcy lawyer

There are few legal petitions that require the use of an attorney; so many bankruptcy filers feel confident representing themselves. While this may seem like the more practical choice, it is not recommended for bankruptcy. Bankruptcy needs to be handled by someone with experience handling Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 petitions. An experienced attorney will be able to show you the best way forward and protect your interests in bankruptcy court. When a medically-related bankruptcy is complete, you may find that your medical bills are either eliminated or significantly reduced.

Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy

Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy usually wipes out all unsecured debt, which includes medical debt. However, it is important to note that once you have filed for bankruptcy you may not do so again for another six years. This means that should you get sick during that time period you may be more vulnerable to legal issues and liable to pay all related bills. Most bankruptcy lawyers will recommend a post-bankruptcy strategy that includes maintaining medical insurance with full coverage.

Filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy is another option when you are "under water" with medical bills. This type of filing will consolidated all of your debts into a manageable repayment plan. Similar to business reorganization, this option allows you to repay the bills over a 3 to 5 year time frame. While it may not be as forgiving as the Chapter 7 model, Chapter 13 allows you to hold onto most of your property. In many cases, this option is only viable for individuals with a stable discretionary income. The key benefit is the extra time it allows individuals to overcome their financial burdens.

As hospitals and providers raise their prices each year, medical bills are becoming a major issue for thousands of households. The high cost of health care continues to be the most stressful financial burden for United States citizens. If you find yourself in a predicament with excessive medical debt, a Colorado Springs bankruptcy attorney will be able to help you eliminate or reduce the amount of your bills. Contact an experienced bankruptcy lawyer for more information.

Photo Courtesy of CoolDesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stephen H. Swift

Managing Attorney
Law Office of Stephen H. Swift, P.C.

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