Medical Debt: The Other Part of the Consequences of the Pandemic

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By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Senior National Correspondent

The personal finance website LendingTree.com revealed that 60 percent of Americans who participated in a survey in March had medical debts. About 53 percent reported that the debt was greater than $5,000, and 72 percent said it prevented them from pursuing major financial milestones, such as buying a house or having a child. Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA.

For Walter Coleman, an independent contractor in Washington, DC, Samantha Robles, a hairstylist in Bethesda, Maryland, and Robin Pruitt, a loan officer who also lives in Bethesda, the coronavirus pandemic not only led to close calls, but the financial fallout could lead to bankruptcy. .

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Each says medical bills have flooded them as a result of their bouts with the virus.

In Coleman’s case, the more than $100,000 he owes to doctors, labs and hospitals is strongly considering filing a Chapter 7 application.

“I don’t know what else to do,” Coleman commented. β€œI did everything right. I didn’t want to get sick and my health insurance didn’t cover a lot of things, but I think even insurance companies were caught off guard by this pandemic,” he reasoned.

Robles and Pruitt said they also considered their options in separate interviews, including borrowing from family and friends or filing for bankruptcy to stop rising medical debt.

“I’m just worried about the next ten years of rebuilding my credit,” Robles said. “Before the pandemic, my credit score was 740, and now I don’t even want to look.”

Pruitt said family members have cooperated, but she is wary of asking for more help.

“Everyone is fighting it, going through a financial pitch,” Pruitt said. “I just refuse to be a burden to anyone.”

According to personal finance and credit monitoring company Credit Karma, medical debt continues to rise.

The debts of those who signed up with Credit Karma skyrocketed by nearly $3 billion between May 2000 and March 2021.

The number of people with overdue medical debts rose from 19.6 million to 21.4 million in the same period.

β€œIf you’re considering bankruptcy as a solution to medical debt, you’re not alone. Unmanageable medical care debt and the hardships that often accompany it β€” such as job loss or reduced access to credit β€” can be a recipe for financial ruin,” Sarah C. Brady, a San Francisco-based financial advisor, wrote for Credit Karma.
Brady warned that filing for bankruptcy isn’t always an ideal solution.

β€œWhile bankruptcy can help you manage or eliminate medical debt, it is not possible to limit your claim to just one type of debt in the process,” she wrote.

“In addition, long-term bankruptcy negatively affects your creditworthiness and can put your assets at risk.”

The personal finance website LendingTree.com revealed that 60 percent of Americans who participated in a survey in March had medical debts.

About 53 percent reported that the debt was greater than $5,000, and 72 percent said it prevented them from pursuing major financial milestones, such as buying a house or having a child.

The Lending Tree researchers reported that the coronavirus is responsible for one in ten patients with medical debts.

Interestingly, even doctors and health professionals have fallen prey to medical debt due to the pandemic.

dr. Elliot Anavim, medical director of Rejuve Clinics in Sherman Oaks, California, said many health professionals are in debt.

β€œFrom physiotherapists to dental hygienists, to someone like me, a naturopath,” Anavim explained.

β€œMany of us spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to become health professionals, but there are many instances where we don’t have the resources to pay off that debt because of how selective and restrictive the field can be.”

Aside from the medical debt that resulted from the coronavirus treatment, Coleman, Robles and Pruitt had one more thing in common.

Each was adamant that they didn’t want their loved ones to take on their debts.

“I just can’t let my parents spend their retirement savings paying my bills,” Pruitt said.

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