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Russell G. Small

Presidential candidate addresses medical debt during debate

Connecticut residents who tuned into the Democratic presidential debate on Jan. 14 will likely have heard Senator Bernie Sanders address the issue of medical debt. Sanders said that half a million Americans turn to bankruptcy each year because they are unable to pay doctor or hospital bills, and a 2018 Consumer Bankruptcy Project study backs up this number. After studying 910 personal bankruptcies filed between 2013 and 2016, the CBP concluded that about 65% of all personal bankruptcies in the United States are linked to medical debt in some way.

The Affordable Care Act was passed in part to address the problem of overwhelming medical debt, but the data suggests that the landmark legislation has failed in this regard. A CBP study conducted prior to the ACA's passage found about the same percentage of bankruptcies linked to medical costs or income lost as a result of injury or illness.

Some researchers have concluded that the income lost following a medical emergency is more financially damaging to American families than medical bills, but most agree that the problem is becoming more serious. About one in six adults in the United States have credit reports with at least one late payment linked to health care according to a study published in 2018 by Health Affairs, and a study published in 2019 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine estimated that about 137 million Americans are struggling to make ends meet because of medical bills.

Attorneys with debt relief experience may be able to assist individuals burdened by medical debt by explaining how filing a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy could provide them with the possibility of a fresh financial start. Attorneys might also explain that the automatic stay issued when a bankruptcy is filed puts an end to daily harassment from bill collectors and halts debt-related lawsuits and wage garnishments.

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