Medical debt is the leading cause of filing for bankruptcy in the United States. Medical debt can be accrued in a number of ways, but is most often due to a lack of proper health insurance or unforeseen medical conditions and emergencies that are not adequately covered by insurance policies. With the advent of the Affordable Care Act many people are hoping that this trend will not continue, but as of right now it remains a very real and pressing concern for millions of Americans, many of whom are faced with overwhelming debt and unsure where to turn.
Reasons for Medical Debt
A recent study showed that 62% of households facing major debt cited medical debt as a big part of their problem. These debts come in the form of unexpected emergency room visits, which can be expensive even if a person has health insurance and are prohibitively so if the person does not. They also come in the form of dental work, which is a separate kind of insurance not generally covered by basic health plans. Dental work can easily run into the thousands of dollars, and is the kind of work that, when needed, is absolutely needed ASAP.
Another huge factor in outstanding medical debt that gives people thoughts of filing for bankruptcy is the out-of-pocket costs of prescription medications. Prescription drugs can cost an arm and a leg, and are notoriously difficult to get covered under typical health insurance plans.
Health conditions that lead to skyrocketing debt are generally related to obesity and to the effects of age, and those suffering from such conditions and the associated debts are filing for bankruptcy at an increasing rate.
Another worrying statistic in the study is that households already saddled with medical debt are less likely to seek treatment when needed, wishing to avoid further debt burden and filing for bankruptcy.
In addition, even after filing for bankruptcy, which can clear giant chunks of unsecured debt, many people are afraid to go in for new treatment, since they likely would still not have proper insurance and would not be able to discharge new medical debt for several years after the initial discharge.
1.7 million people will be filing for bankruptcy due to medical debt this year, the study estimates. Luckily the protections offered by filing for bankruptcy are strong and able to discharge most of the debts incurred by those suffering from poor health or accidents – but the larger issue is that poor health and accidents are a reality of life, and it feels like something is inherently wrong when a system fails to account for these realities in a meaningful way.