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Russell G. Small

The ACA has done little to address crippling medical bills

About two-thirds of the people who file personal bankruptcies in Connecticut and around the country each year do so to avoid crushing medical bills, according to a recent study published in American Journal of Public Health. A team of researchers that included a doctor from the Hunter College of City University of New York, two lawyers and a Consumer Bankruptcy Project sociologist came to this conclusion after studying 910 Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions filed between 2013 and 2016.

The research has attracted a large amount of media attention as it is the first major study of medical debt-related bankruptcy since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010. Lawmakers hoped that the landmark health care law would address the problem, but the researchers found little evidence to suggest that this has happened. According to the research team, as many as 530,000 American families face financial ruin because of illness or injury each year.

More than half of the bankruptcy petitions scrutinized by the research team were filed because of crippling medical bills. Lost income due to health issues was cited as a reason for filing by 44.3 percent of the petitioners. The lead researcher says that health insurance policies with high deductibles and copayments as well as employers who fire sick workers to keep their premiums low are contributing to the problem.

Many Americans struggling to cope with medical bills and other financial setbacks face daily harassment from creditors and debt collectors. A lawyer with debt relief experience could explain how filing a personal bankruptcy petition will lead to what is called an automatic stay. This is a court order that immediately stops collection efforts, puts a halt to lawsuits filed by creditors and stops paychecks from being garnished.

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