medical bills

Medical Bills and Bankruptcy

When I speak with a potential new client, and I am trying to get a feel for their situation, one of the first questions I ask is, "how much credit card and medical debt do you have?" There is a good reason I ask this question, because these are the primary types of debt that weigh most of my clients down. Medical bills are only growing larger.

Medical bills can be downright astronomical, especially for individuals without health insurance. Many clients face five-figure medical burdens. I have had multiple clients with over $100,000 in medical debts. These is not much you can do about debts this large, unless your income is enormous. Bankruptcy must be a strong consideration in these cases. Medical bills do not spiral as quickly as credit cards, because there is normally no interest owed. However, the underlying debts are often far larger.

Not all medical debt burdens are this dramatic, but medical debt in the thousands or ten-of-thousands can be just as onerous when combined with credit card debt, mortgages, car payments, and student loans. The good news is that medical is almost always dischargeable in bankruptcy, whether it is made up of several small co-pays, or a huge six-figure bill. Eliminating them can be the main purpose of your bankruptcy.

Unfortunately, this is a problem that will only get worse, as Congress seems intent on limiting who can receive affordable health care, and how much it will cover. Uninsured debtors are always a sever injury or extended illness away from financial ruin. Bankruptcy will be the best, and most legitimate option for dealing with the huge bills that result. This is a problem worth watching in the coming years. I expect more and more people being forced to file over the next 3 or 4 years.

When I meet with individuals facing medical bills, I always make sure they gather up every bill they have in their possession. Medical debts are often not reported to credit agencies, and therefore do not show up on credit reports. Debts not disclosed are not discharged though bankruptcy, so it will be important to provide your attorney with every statement. Trying to decipher medical bills can be headache-inducing, as statements on the same service often show up in different forms, with different return addresses and account numbers. More is better... gather everything up and let your attorney review it. There is no need in missing a bill due to lack of thoroughness.

A final thing to consider with medical bills is whether you will have any upcoming or ongoing bills. If you file bankruptcy too early, these bills will not be discharged, as only debts accrued before bankruptcy can be discharged. Let your attorney know about your medical future so he or she can help you best determine when to file your case.

Medical bills will become a growing debt problem as Congress reduces and limits access to many working Americans. I have seen this in the past, and it is sure to reoccur as the number of uninsured Americans increases. Contact us if you are facing medical bills you can't pay to set up a free consultation and learn about your options.

Medical Bills and Bankruptcy

Medical bills are often an important factor in seeking bankruptcy relief. The good news is that they are mostly dischargeable, no matter how large. Given the exorbitant cost of medical care, these bills often grow huge. Here are some things to keep in mind when you are considering filing a bankruptcy to deal with medical bills.

  • Medical bills are normally considered "unsecured" debt. That means they are not secured by your personal property (unlike a car loan or a mortgage), and therefore they can be discharged (or eliminated) like other unsecured debt such as credit cards. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, medical bills are completely eliminated. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you may have to repay some or all of the debt, but it will be over a 3-to-5 year plan, and without interest. In either case, bankruptcy will probably be your best option for dealing with the burden.
  • Make sure you gather up all of your medical bills for review by your attorney. Many medical providers do not report the bills to credit agencies, so they oftentimes do not show up on credit reports. Find your medical bills and provide a copy to your attorney. If you cannot find the statements, call your health care provider and ask for one. This is important, because just like other unsecured debts, medical bills are NOT discharged if they are not included in your bankruptcy petition.
  • Let your attorney know if your medical condition is ongoing, or resolved. While medical bills are dischargeable in bankruptcy, you may run the risk that your health care provider in non-emergency situations may stop providing service if they are included in your bankruptcy petition. Timing is important, a good bankruptcy attorney will discuss your options.

Many of my clients are not even aware of some older medical bills. It is best to round up everything when you file a bankruptcy, there is no reason to pay a bill later that can be included and discharged now.

As a Pittsburgh bankruptcy attorney, I would be happy to review your medical bills and help you determine if bankruptcy is an option for you. Contact us for a free consultation.