Medical bills still lead to bankruptcy for many Americans

In spite of the dramatic increase in insurance coverage brought about by the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), experts estimate that more than a million Americans will still need to file for bankruptcy in 2014 to escape overwhelming medical-related debt. It is unclear exactly how many bankruptcies each year are directly caused by excess healthcare bills, but estimates range from as low as 25 percent to as high as 62 percent.

Either way, the majority - about 75 percent - of people filing for bankruptcy as a result of unexpected and unaffordable medical bills have insurance. Unfortunately, many find themselves still unable to pay myriad costs associated with treatment, including:

  • Prescription drugs
  • Uncovered tests
  • Out-of-network treatment
  • Specialist visits
  • Medical equipment (everything from walkers to knee braces) not covered by some insurance plans
  • Ambulance transport
  • Chemotherapy and radiation
  • Hospitalization

These issues are particularly disruptive to people who have purchased insurance with a higher deductible to keep monthly premiums at a minimum. Many of them are only one serious illness or accident away from severe financial strain that could easily lead to a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing.

The benefits of bankruptcy

Even though bankruptcy is much more common nowadays than it was a generation ago, many people struggling with debt still see bankruptcy as a negative thing. They will endure harassing phone calls, repeated collection attempts and nasty letters from medical creditors, and some will eventually sacrifice their budget for food, shelter or utilities to make the harassment stop. They might use credit cards to pay medical expenses, digging themselves even deeper into debt once the interest charges and fees are applied. Only when they hit rock bottom financially will they consider filing for bankruptcy protection. Things don't have to get that dire, though, before help is available.

The good news is that there are many benefits of bankruptcy, and it is available for those who have valiantly endured collection efforts and made sacrifices in an attempt to get their bills paid. Imagine being able to stop the letters, phone calls and threats. Now envision a day where you are no longer suffocating under the weight of debt and have the ability to make your mortgage/rent payments, buy groceries for your family and pay your utilities without worrying about whether you need to choose between doctor and hospital bills or keeping the power on.

That is what Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy can do; once you file for bankruptcy, you are protected from creditor harassment and collection attempts. This means that creditors cannot send you letters or bills, call you or file legal actions against you while the bankruptcy is pending. If you are struggling with unmanageable debt - whether it is from medical bills, credit cards or another type of debt - don't wait until you are at your wit's end. Though bankruptcy is a big decision, and not a "quick fix," an experienced bankruptcy attorney can give you an honest assessment of your financial situation and let you know if bankruptcy is right for you.