Medical Debt: The Other Part of Pandemic Fallout
By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Sr Nat’l Correspondent
For Walter Coleman, an independent contractor in Washington, D.C., Samantha Robles, a hairstylist in Bethesda, Maryland, and Robin Pruitt, a loan officer who also lives in Bethesda, the coronavirus pandemic not only resulted in close calls, but the financial fallout may lead to bankruptcy.
Each says the medical bills resulting from their bouts with the virus have overwhelmed them.
In Coleman’s case, the more than $100,000 he owes to doctors, laboratories, and hospitals has him strongly considering a Chapter 7 filing.
“Don’t know what else to do,” Coleman remarked. “I did everything right. I didn’t want to get sick, and my health insurance didn’t cover a lot of things, but I guess even insurance companies were caught off guard by this pandemic,” he reasoned.
Robles and Pruitt said they have also considered their options in separate interviews, including borrowing from family and friends or filing bankruptcy to retire mounting medical debt.
“I just worry about spending the next ten years trying to rebuild my credit,” Robles stated. “Before the pandemic, my credit score was 740, and now I don’t even want to look.”
Pruitt said family members have pitched in, but she’s wary of asking for more assistance.
“Everyone is fighting it, going through a financial pitch,” Pruitt said. “I just refuse to become a burden on anyone.”
According to the personal finance and credit monitoring company Credit Karma, medical debt continues to soar.
Debt among those signed up at Credit Karma has skyrocketed by nearly $3 billion from May 2000 to March 2021.
The number of people with past-due medical debt rose during the same period to 21.4 million from 19.6 million.
“If you’re considering bankruptcy as a solution for medical debt, you’re not alone. Unmanageable medical care debt and the hardships that often come along with it – like loss of work or reduced access to credit – can be a recipe for financial ruin,” Sarah C. Brady, a San Francisco-based financial consultant, wrote for Credit Karma.
Brady warned that filing for bankruptcy isn’t always an ideal solution.
“Although bankruptcy can help you manage or eliminate medical debt, it’s not possible to limit your claim to only one kind of debt during the process,” she wrote.
“Plus, bankruptcy has a long-term negative impact on your credit and can put your assets in jeopardy.”
The personal finance website LendingTree.com revealed that 60 percent of Americans who participated in a study in March faced medical debt.
Approximately 53 percent reported the debt was more significant than $5,000, and 72 percent said it prevented them from pursuing key financial milestones, like buying a home or having a child.
The Lending Tree researchers reported that the coronavirus is responsible for one in every ten patients with medical debt.
Interestingly, even physicians and healthcare workers have fallen prey to medical debt because of the pandemic.
Dr. Elliot Anavim, medical director at Rejuve Clinics in Sherman Oaks, Calif., said many healthcare workers live in debt.
“From physical therapists to dental hygienists, to someone like me, a naturopathic physician,” Anavim stated.
“Many of us spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to become professional healthcare workers, yet there are many cases in which we don’t have the means of paying off that debt because of how selective and limiting the field can be.”
Aside from the medical debt that stemmed from the coronavirus treatment, Coleman, Robles, and Pruitt each shared one other thing in common.
Each was adamant that they didn’t want their loved ones to shoulder their debt.
“I just can’t allow my parents to spend their retirement savings on paying my bills,” Pruitt said.