Many individuals and families have considered bankruptcy in recent years due to the poor economy, a lost job and the sharp downturn in the housing market. But there is another all-too-common reason for seeking bankruptcy relief, one an Orlando family knows all to well: medical bills.
The birth of their daughter in 2007 was a celebrated event for the Sutherland family. But, shortly after Ellie’s birth, she was whisked away to a neonatal intensive care unit, where she remained for 25 days, thus beginning a lifetime of visits to hospitals and specialists trying to determine what was affecting little Ellie. She was partially deaf, suffered from high fevers, was lacking muscle tone on one-half of her face and would scratch and bite until she bled.
In 2009, the Sutherland’s filed for bankruptcy. The medical bills were piling up, the couple made too much money to qualify for government benefits for Ellie, but not enough to keep up with the house, the living expenses and Ellie’s treatment.
Medical Bankruptcies are Not Uncommon in Florida and Throughout the U.S.
Researchers at Harvard and Ohio found that 62 percent of all bankruptcies are due at least in part to medical debt. Every 90 seconds, a family somewhere in the United States files for bankruptcy relief because of overwhelming medical expenses. Contrary to popular belief, a majority of those families, three-quarters to be exact, had health insurance.
Both of the Sutherlands were employed when Ellie was born and both had insurance. Neither thought that medical bills would become an issue. But the insurance companies pointed fingers at each other, claiming that the other was the primary insurer and should pay for Ellie’s medical bills.
For Ellie’s family, trips to Johns Hopkins, expensive testing and the care of several Central Florida specialists was more than their budget could handle. The Sutherland’s attempted, unsuccessfully, to modify their home mortgage before filing bankruptcy, but the unforeseen medical expenses bankrupted a family who seemed to be comfortable, at least financially.
Source: Orlando Sentinel, “Despite insurance, medical bills push family to bankruptcy