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Can my medical bills land me in bankruptcy court?

There are many reasons consumers file for bankruptcy — a job loss, unrestrained spending, a divorce that leaves you with fewer assets than liabilities, inability to keep up with mortgage payments.

But research conducted by NerdWallet Health in 2013, indicated an alarming trend. Medical bills that consumers accrue after an illness or accident have become the primary reason for most consumer bankruptcy filings, eclipsing both mortgage and credit card debt.

Many might assume that with the passage of the Affordable Care Act that significantly reduced the number of uninsured Americans, fewer consumers would wind up deeply in debt due to unpaid doctors' and/or hospital bills.

But ironically, many who wind up filing for bankruptcy because they are unable to pay mountains of medical bills are covered by health insurance.

The founder of the online crowdfunding site GiveForward that assists people in need with funding for medical procedures and other unexpected expenses stated that 78 percent of consumers who file for bankruptcy over unpaid medical bills were insured.

"It's not just the medical bills[;] it's really everything around the bills that insurance won't cover," he said, citing as an example a woman undergoing treatment for breast cancer. On average, her out-of-pocket expenses for a single year's treatment run about $8,500.

That sum includes cost of traveling to and from the hospital for chemo and/or radiation, co-insurance and co-pays. It fails to account for childcare expenses while undergoing treatment, lost wages from time off of work and other associated costs. High deductibles contribute to the mound of bills patients face as well.

One attorney noted that "[m]edical expenses have been growing at a rate well above inflation. Starting in about 2007/2008, medical expenses went from being a primary component of a lot of cases to becoming the dominant factor in consumer [bankruptcies]."

If you are facing a plethora of bills from health care providers that you will never be able to pay, it may be in your best interest to consider filing for Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy.

The stress of creditors calling and mailing invoices monthly can slow your recovery and possibly even worsen your condition. It's important to understand that you do have legal options available to you.

Bankruptcy should be a last resort scenario. Address your concerns with an Arizona bankruptcy attorney to be sure that you are making the best decision given your particular circumstances.

Source: FOX Business, "Medical Bankruptcies Are Still a Problem, Here's What to Expect," Donna Fuscaldo, accessed April 26, 2017

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  • MCBA | Maricopa County Bar Association
  • State Bar of Arizona
  • ABA | American bar Association | Defending Liberty Pursuing Justice
  • Oregon State bar
  • NACBA | National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys
  • NACA | National Association of Consumer Advocates
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