HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Monday, May 5, 2008

Medical Debt

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports on the explosion of medical debt and how individuals are dealing with it.  Peggy O'Farrell writes,

Vicki Mauch had a choice after she lost her health insurance in December: Pay for her medicine or pay for her mortgage.  Mauch, 47, decided to go without the prescriptions she needs to control her asthma and glaucoma.  Her finances were already shaky when a hospital stay in March added to her debt. She fell behind on her mortgage.  She's been too sick to work since then because of a seizure disorder. Now, she has another hard choice: Come up with almost $5,000 in back payments on her $125,000 house by May 7, or go into foreclosure.

Medical debt is a major problem for American families - even for families with health insurance.  Studies from the Access Project, a non-profit organization that focuses on expanding access to health care, cites medical debt as a factor in growing credit card debt, foreclosures and bankruptcy.Mauch has applied for disability and Medicaid coverage, but it's almost certain that her applications won't be approved before she loses her house. . . .

Trey Daly III, a senior attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, hears stories like Mauch's every day.  "We typically hear from people because they've been sued or because they're being contacted by collections agencies over medical debt," Daly said. "That's when they come to us for help."  Most, like Mauch, are uninsured, but a growing number have health insurance, he said.  When families like Mauch juggle bills, most with high interest rates and late fees, it's not hard for medical debt, like credit card debt, to pile up.  Even for families with insurance, a hospital stay can add up to thousands in out-of-pocket expenses. . . .

For people with illnesses that need constant management, skipping preventive care can lead to costly emergencies down the road.  Mauch can't help but wonder when that emergency will arise.  If things get worse, she could get treatment at the closest emergency room, since it would be illegal for the hospital to deny her treatment.  But, Mauch explained, "That's a Band-Aid. I need health care," she said. "And I can't get it."

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