Bankruptcy and Medical Bills

  • By:Rex Daines
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As the old saying goes, “nothing is more important than your health.” When you are injured or sick, you know how true that is. When you or a loved one is facing a serious or catastrophic illness, the cost of medical care can very quickly skyrocket. Before you know it, the costs of medical care can drive you into bankruptcy.

If that’s your situation, don’t despair. We can help. A significant number of people file bankruptcy every year due to crushing medical bills. At least one study has found that nearly 1 billion people filed bankruptcy due to medical costs.

In fact, filing bankruptcy may not only be a good choice for you if your medical bills have gotten out of control, but looked at correctly, it is the right thing to do.

How can that be?

Because overwhelming medical bills are exactly the type of debt that the bankruptcy code was designed to address. The whole point of bankruptcy is to give an honest debtor relief from overwhelming and insurmountable debt. When your mountain of bills was caused by an accident or serious illness, that’s not something you deliberately sought out. It’s not your fault. It very likely could not have been avoided or foreseen. After the illness or injury, you needed medical attention to recover. Now you need bankruptcy to recover from the insurmountable costs of health care.

How Medical Debt Is Classified in Bankruptcy.

So, will bankruptcy erase all of your medical bills? Yes. When you file for bankruptcy, your debts are separated into different categories. Some debts, like child support or alimony, are not dischargeable (in other words, can’t be wiped out). But other debts, like credit card debt and medical bills are considered unsecured debt and do get discharged in bankruptcy.

Chapter 7 and Medical Bills.

Chapter 7 (often called “liquidation bankruptcy”) is the most common type of bankruptcy filed by individuals. To qualify for a Chapter 7, you must pass a “means test.” That is to say, you must be at or below a certain disposable income level. If you are, then you can qualify for Chapter 7. If you qualify for Chapter 7, there is no limit to the amount of amount of medical debt that a Chapter 7 discharge can wipe out. Just like credit card debt, medical debt is considered unsecured debt that is dischargeable. And any medical bills that you paid with your credit card can also be discharged.

In Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Unlike a Chapter 7 which is designed to liquidate your assets and pay off your debts wiping the slate clean, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy is designed to put a repayment plan in place (“Chapter 13 Plan” or “Plan”) that will allow you to pay off your creditors over time. In a Chapter 13, your medical bills are lumped in with all the other general unsecured debts in your Plan. The amount you have to pay to general unsecured creditors depends on your income, expenses and nonexempt assets.

In Chapter 13, each creditor receives a pro rata portion of the total amount going towards these debts in your plan which is typically only pennies on the dollar. However, keep in mind that you may not qualify for Chapter 13 if your medical bills and other debt exceed the Chapter 13 limits.

We Can Guide You To The Right Decision.

If you are facing insurmountable medical bills, we can help. We have offices in Portland, Eugene, Coos Bay, Medford, and other cities in Oregon and we have offices in Washington. We offer free consultations and reasonable rates. Contact us by phone or email anytime to set up your free consultation.

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