Data gathered from agencies and organizations across the country reveal how many families are struggling with medical bills. Part of the problem is that people are responsible for paying more out-of-pocket costs because of high-deductible insurance plans. To meet their obligations, some will use their savings. Others will use credit cards with high interest rates that inevitably pile up. Eventually the money runs out and the credit cards are maxed, but the pile of medical bills remains. The result is that health care has become the primary reason for bankruptcy in America.
A problem for all ages
It is not just older people who are grappling with the specter of high medical bills. According to 2013 statistics compiled by NerdWallet Health, more than 20 percent of the population-about 56 million people-were struggling with payment for medical bills that year, and these were people between the ages of 19 and 64. The problem continues today. Even though the Affordable Care Act has expanded health care coverage for millions of people, 20 percent of those under the age of 65 say they are having difficulty paying for medical bills, according to a joint study conducted by The Kaiser Family Foundation and The New York Times.
A case study
Outside of the costs associated with catastrophic health care, surgeries are usually at the top of the list for medical expenses. An article in The Atlantic cited the unwelcome surprise a patient received about the costs associated with his herniated disk operation. The total was $197,300, which included hospital charges, plus billing for the anesthesiologist and orthopedist. The patient was prepared for these costs. He was not prepared for the additional $117,000 that showed up as the fee for an "assistant surgeon."
Serious differences in costs
Medical costs vary to astonishing degrees across the country. Someone having a knee replacement in Louisiana could be charged thousands of dollars more than another person having the same procedure in Arkansas. Nevertheless, if either patient has an out-of-pocket maximum of thousands of dollars to meet before the insurance company begins to pay its share, there could be financial trouble ahead. In addition to those who turn to savings or use credit cards to make health care payments, there are others who are not able to pay for rent or utilities because of high medical bills.
Bankruptcy as an alternative
For some people, the thought of bankruptcy is depressing, an action they never thought they would have to take. Although this is not a solution for everyone, bankruptcy may be the logical next step for others with heavy health care debt, such as the costs associated with a knee replacement. An experienced attorney can evaluate individual situations, explain alternatives and help those with financial problems move ahead with a viable plan to become debt-free.