I have written before on how medical illness is the leading cause of bankruptcy. In fact, medical bankruptcy is the reason for over 60% of all personal bankruptcies. The stories are heartbreaking. Lack of medical insurance, inadequate insurance and no medical leave available from work can almost ensure that a person facing a catastrophic illness or accident will lose their job or end up filing for medical bankruptcy.
CNN covered the story of Finnegan Burns – a 3 year old boy suffering from cystic fibrosis. He died after battling complications at the age of 4. His parents, who both took time off from work to stay with him in hospital and tend to him at home, could not contend with mounting debt. Instead of taking time to grieve for the loss of their son – a pain that any parent can barely imagine – they found themselves not only facing bankruptcy but also facing the foreclosure of their home.
A surprising fact of medical bankruptcy is that most of those filing for it actually have health insurance. What they don’t have is enough of it, nor do they have a way to take a leave of absence from work with some sort of financial support, in order to get well. An additional problem here is that patients are given very little time to get well and start paying off their bills. Hospitals and debt collection agencies begin hammering for large payments too quickly and the patients find themselves in court before they’ve even finished treatment or recovered from surgery.
A new Bill introduced to Congress is The Medical Bankruptcy Fairness Act. This proposal will help those who have had to take four or more weeks off work to cope with a medical crisis or who have had to spend at least one quarter of their annual income on medical expenses on their (or immediate family’s) illness. The Open Congress website describes this proposal as “A bill to amend title 11 of the United States Code, to provide protection for medical debt homeowners, to restore bankruptcy protections for individuals experiencing economic distress as caregivers to ill, injured, or disabled family members, and to exempt from means testing debtors whose financial problems were caused by serious medical problems, and for other purposes.” http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-s1624/show
This Bill may not protect those who were already in default of their mortgages before a medical crisis occurred.
What is important about this Bill is that will differentiate between those who file for bankruptcy due to irresponsibility and greed and those who have faced serious illness or death of a loved one and find themselves in a financial crisis. They will not have to attend credit counseling, nor will they have to answer questions that require them to state how their own actions caused their financial woes – something the parents of Finnegan Burns had to endure. Dealing with the unimaginable trauma of a child dying is enough – having to answer questions geared toward greedy, irresponsible people is adding insult to injury.
This Bill does not add to the tax payer’s burden. What it does is shift the bankruptcy regulations for those facing a medical crisis and does not hold them morally or ethically responsible, when they are so obviously not. Some compassion and caring needs to be introduced into our laws, so that people facing homelessness and despair due to sickness or death are not lumped in with those who felt entitled to fancy cars and houses they could not afford and didn’t pay for.
Getting well, and staying well should not depend on how much money we have in our pockets. Nor should we end up destitute, with a much damaged credit history, as a result.
Have you endured financial hardship due to medical illness or death? How are you coping?
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