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Medical Treatment And Bankruptcy

June 23, 2010

It is no surprise that illness is a chief contributor to personal bankruptcy.  In fact, a 2009 study released by Harvard researchers claims that 62% of all personal bankruptcies during 2007 were caused by health problems. Many individuals struggling with medical bills need relief, but worry about how a bankruptcy will affect their ability to receive medical care in the future. 

Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act hospitals and ambulance services are required to provide emergency healthcare to a person regardless of ability to pay.  This federal law requires appropriate medical screening, necessary stabilization, and transfer to an appropriate facility for treatment of an emergency condition.  In broad general terms, if you have an emergency medical condition, a hospital ER must treat you. 

If you do not have an emergency medical condition, the hospital or doctor may refuse treatment to a bankruptcy debtor.  It is unusual for a hospital to deny service after bankruptcy unless the patient demonstrates an inability to pay the new bill.  If you have insurance or other form of guaranteed payment, the hospital will likely treat you. 

Individual physicians are more likely to deny services if you have discharged their bill.  Many bankruptcy debtors want to continue a relationship with their personal doctor, and consequently make payment arrangements after the bankruptcy has been filed. While the bankruptcy law requires the debtor to list every creditor, there is no prohibition against paying a debt after the bankruptcy.  Paying the debt does not renew or create a new obligation and the doctor may not take action to collect a discharged debt (i.e. writing or calling to encourage payment). 

If you need to include medical bills in your bankruptcy, but worry about receiving future medical care, consult with your bankruptcy attorney.  In most cases there is no interruption in medical care or treatment.  Know your legal rights and be informed of how your bankruptcy will affect your ability to receive medical care.


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