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Honest People Can Face Overwhelming Medical Expenses

July 21, 2009

Famed songwriter Bruce Springsteen complained in his song Atlantic City, “I got debts that no honest man can pay.” For many honest people debt can come suddenly through no fault of your own.

A recent report in the American Journal of Medicine states that medical bills contributed to more than 60 percent of U.S. personal bankruptcies. This study conducted by a team from Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University found that more than 75 percent of these bankrupt filers had some form of health insurance and were "solidly middle class” – two-thirds were homeowners and three-fifths had gone to college. In many cases unemployment issues also accompanied the medical expenses. For some, that inability to work also meant the loss of employer-based health insurance.

Even families that were considered “well-insured” had to cope with high deductibles and uncovered expenses. Medical expenses for families with private insurance averaged $17,749, compared to $26,971 in medical debt for those uninsured, and $22,568 for those who initially had insurance coverage, but lost it at some point after the illness.

"Our findings are frightening. Unless you’re Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy," said lead author Dr. David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Medical expenses can easily spiral out of control and result in lawsuits, wage garnishments, and property attachment and seizure. Compounding the problem are many fallacies and half-truths being passed around, like: “The hospital can’t sue if you pay them $10 per month.” or “I’m liable for my spouse’s medical bills.” If you are facing medical bills that you cannot pay, consult an attorney and investigate your legal rights. Only an attorney can explain your legal rights and help you navigate a path to recovery.

You can read the free full article from the American Journal of Medicine at


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