You have plenty to worry about when someone in your family is diagnosed with a serious medical condition. You don’t need to worry about treatment costs too.
Unfortunately, medical debt becomes a contributing factor to bankruptcies for millions of Americans every year. Let’s explore the reasons that medical expenses and bankruptcy often go hand in hand.
1. Medical expenses arise unexpectedly.
You can anticipate some medical bills, such as pregnancy and birth of a new baby, but others arise without warning. Many huge healthcare expenses result from emergencies or the sudden diagnosis of a rare condition. One day you were putting away for your child’s college fund and your retirement. The next you find those savings accounts wiped out, and you still have unpaid hospital bills.
2. You have little control over the cost of medical care.
Sometimes bankruptcy becomes the only option for people who overextended themselves financially. They got loans for cars or houses they can no longer afford, or they accumulated thousands of dollars in credit card debt. In some cases, these debts were avoidable.
But that doesn’t hold true for medical debts. You can’t compare prices on a life-saving medical treatment the same way you do on winter coats or Chinese take-out. Your healthcare provider tells you the cost, and you have to pay it. Your life matters more than your credit score.
3. Medical expenses accumulate from many sources.
Serious or chronic health conditions usually result in medical bills from multiple sources. Those sources include:
- Health insurance premiums. You pay these to ensure that your insurance provider covers at least some of your medical expenses. This bill never goes away, even if your health improves.
- Doctor visits. You pay whenever you see a doctor about a diagnosis, follow-up treatment, or regular checkup.
- Tests and scans. Doctors need information in order to monitor health conditions and treat them effectively. They get that information by ordering blood work, X-rays, CT scans, and other tests.
- Surgery. Many conditions require patients to go under the knife, which represents a significant but necessary medical expense.
- Medications. Prescriptions help cure or manage medical conditions, so they’re as vital as doctor visits, tests, and surgeries.
- Hospitalization. Doctors need to monitor some patients after emergencies or surgeries to ensure they avoid dangerous complications.
This list should clarify why medical bills pile up so fast. When these outstanding bills get too high, bankruptcy seems like the only option.
4. Health insurance doesn’t cover everything.
It’s easy to assume that bankruptcy influenced by medical bills happens only to people without health insurance. Once you meet your deductible, your health insurance pays for everything else, right?
Unfortunately, no. A Harvard University study found that up to 78% of medical-related bankruptcies happen to people with health insurance. Another study, done by price comparison website NerdWallet Health, found that around 10 million Americans with insurance don’t pay off all their medical expenses by year end.
Part of the problem comes from high out-of-pocket costs associated with many health insurance plans. For some people, medical and prescription deductibles easily represent 10 to 20 percent of their annual income. Other factors include out-of-network healthcare costs and experimental treatments, which insurance companies may not pay for.
5. Many health conditions require long-term care.
Even if you manage your large medical expenses well right after the diagnosis, you could pay to treat the condition for years. Your other expenses don’t vanish when your healthcare costs rise suddenly. Many people don’t have the option of adjusting their monthly budget because of other debts. Eventually, their total bills become too much to handle, which leads them to seek bankruptcy.
If you have large outstanding medical bills, bankruptcy may be the best option for you. Consult a bankruptcy lawyer to discuss your situation.