Costly illnesses trigger bankruptcies

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: March 3rd, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

More than one-million American families file for bankruptcy each year. And although marital break-up and job loss are two common causes, illness and ballooning medical bills can also cause insurmountable fiscal strain.

A recent study from Harvard University finds that nearly half of personal bankruptcies stem from costly illnesses. Researchers discovered that although many patients who apply for bankruptcy protection are middle class and gainfully employed, debilitating injury or illness sometimes leads to job loss, wiping out their income and, subsequently, their insurance coverage. In addition, those who lose their jobs but find new employment often go without insurance, if their new insurer refuses to pay for treatment of a pre-existing condition. Conversely, the poor are less likely to seek bankruptcy protection. That’s because they tend to run up less credit debt and have fewer assets to protect, such as a home.

The findings showed that fifteen percent of homeowners who took out a second or third mortgage on their house said that medical costs and expenses were the reason. People who’ve ever fallen behind in medical payments were found in the study to be forty-two percent more likely than other financial debtors to suffer from lapses in health-care insurance coverage.

Experts say having health coverage that isn’t directly linked to one’s employment is a potential safeguard against financial difficulties that can arise with disability and subsequent job loss.

Short of wishing away sudden and expensive illness, double-checking your families’ health-care coverage and limitations is always a safe bet.