Sunday, December 1, 2019

Medical Debt - Are Medical Bills Weighing You Down?

Under the current healthcare system in the United States, a large percentage of Americans suffer severe financial distress when they become ill or need surgery.  According to research done by the Commonwealth Fund, there are 79 million Americans who are suffering financial problems as a result of their medical bills or debt.  This includes 72 million, or 41 percent of all working age adults and another 7 million elderly adults.

If you are one of the many people who are having difficulty dealing with your medical bills, it may be reassuring to know you are not alone.  However, that still does not solve your problem.  Consequently, it may be helpful to read the guest post below by Veronica Baxter, a legal assistant to a Philadelphia bankruptcy attorney.  Whether you choose to go through bankruptcy or try one of the other strategies she suggests in her guest post, hopefully this article will help you formulate a plan for dealing with your medical debt.

Medical Debt:  A Guide for Retirees

by Veronica Baxter

It is inevitable - unless you have the most expensive, comprehensive medical insurance policy available, you are going to incur some medically-necessary expenses which are not covered by private insurance or Medicare or your health savings account.

What can you do when you cannot pay these bills? This Guide sets forth various options and strategies to manage medical debt in retirement.

Ask Your Medical Provider if All Needed Services are Covered


Believe it or not, if you visit a multi-doctor practice or a hospital which ostensibly takes your insurance, there will be medical providers within that location who will not accept your insurance.  Frequently, people being admitted for medically-necessary procedures receive medical bills thereafter for various services by those not participating in their plan.

Ask questions beforehand. You may be surprised how being aware and checking with your providers will get you more of the services you need performed by practitioners in your plan. Many hospitals have patient advocates who can help with this and, of course, having family by your side helps, too.

Ask Your Medical Provider if a Payment Plan is Available


For ongoing treatment or annual checkups, primary care physicians may have a coverage plan which one can subscribe to, or a monthly payment plan.  And, if a provider knows you are a cash payer, a discount may be available.

Do not be shy. If you do not ask, you will not receive it.

When You Should Consider Filing Bankruptcy on Medical Debt


There are two scenarios in which someone should consider filing a bankruptcy petition. As an introduction, here are the two types of bankruptcy available to most consumer debtors, and they are useful for different situations and goals:

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy


Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a four- to six-month process during which you disclose your expenses, income, assets, and debts to the Chapter 7 Trustee and the bankruptcy court. You must pass a “means test” to income-qualify to file under Chapter 7. If all goes well, the debtor has all unsecured debt, including medical bills and credit cards, discharged - meaning the debtor is no longer personally liable for it.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is for debtors with steady income (for retirees this can be income such as Social Security, a pension, or part-time job) who can afford to partially repay their creditors through a monthly payment plan over three or five years. How much they pay depends on the type of debt they have and the amount of disposable income they have.

This form of bankruptcy is most useful for people who have fallen behind on a car loan or mortgage and want to keep that car or home. They can use their Chapter 13 plan to pay the arrears over time and get caught up.

Again, at the end of the plan, whatever debt is not repaid is discharged. This usually means all or most of the unsecured debt is discharged.

1.     Consider Bankruptcy if You Are Being Sued, or are in Collections, over Medical Debt.


This is first for a reason. Being in collections and subjected to relentless creditor harassment, or receiving a summons, are the most stressful events one can suffer. And we all know how bad stress is for our health. Do you want to stress over old past-due medical bills which could cause you more health problems and then more medical bills?  This has to be solved, and quickly.

The minute you file a bankruptcy petition, the automatic stay is in place - meaning, all lawsuits and collection activity stops right then, and remain “stayed” while your bankruptcy case is active.

Consult with an experienced local bankruptcy attorney about your options. Your initial consultation will be free of charge, and you can explore various solutions at no cost or obligation to you.

If you decide to file Chapter 7, it is likely because you income-qualify, are able to apply exemptions to protect your home and other property from seizure by the Chapter 7 trustee, and have medical and credit card bills you cannot pay.

If you decide to file Chapter 13, it could be because you have a steady income and can partially repay your debt, and perhaps you have fallen behind on a car loan or mortgage and want the opportunity to catch up. Chapter 13 is perfect for that.

Your attorney will discuss all options with you and help you decide which is best.

2.     Consider Bankruptcy if You Have Medical and Credit Card Debt and No Major Medical Procedures Pending.


If you find you are in relatively good health with no ongoing conditions needing treatment or major procedures planned, and you have outstanding medical bills and perhaps credit card debt you cannot pay, bankruptcy is for you. Whether Chapter 7 or 13 is appropriate will depend upon your income and other financial goals.

If you have an ongoing condition or major procedure planned, you need to discuss your options with your attorney. You do not want to alienate your medical providers by not paying them and getting that debt discharged.

How to Time a Medical Bill Bankruptcy


Deciding when to file bankruptcy is tricky if you are filing due to unpaid medical bills.

In the case of other kinds of debt, an attorney would usually recommend filing as soon as possible, before you are sued or, if you have already been sued, before the creditor gets a judgment against you and starts garnishing your wages, levying against your bank accounts, or recording a lien on your property.

Medical bills are different. They can be unpredictable and often bills come weeks or months after a procedure.

The bottom line is that a bankruptcy cannot discharge medical bills which are incurred in the future. So if you have a chronic condition, you need to weigh your current bills with the possibility of future bills and discuss it with your attorney. If you know you need a major procedure, you might want to wait to file bankruptcy until you have recovered from it so the bankruptcy captures all of those bills.

An experienced bankruptcy attorney can help you. Do not suffer. Your medical debt problem can be solved.

About the Author

Veronica Baxter is a legal assistant and blogger living and working in the great city of Philadelphia. She frequently works with David M. Offen, Esq., a Philadelphia bankruptcy attorney. (Ad)

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Disclosure: The owner of this blog does NOT have an affiliate relationship with this bankruptcy attorney and did not receive payment for the publication of this post.  

Disclosure: Some articles on this blog may contain Amazon affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase, I'll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you are interested in learning more about financial planning for retirement, Medicare, Social Security, where to retire, common medical issues as we age or more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of this post to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.
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Photo credit:  Veronica Baxter

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Sunday, November 24, 2019

Protect Yourself from the Deadly Flu Virus - Avoid Death from this Serious Disease!

During the winter of 2017-2018, approximately 80,000 people in the United States died of the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  More than 12,000 of them were over the age of 65.  Despite the seriousness of this highly contagious disease, approximately 43 percent of Americans will not get the flu vaccine. My husband, because of his chronic kidney disease, is one of millions of Americans who are immune compromised.  Sadly, many of the Americans who decide to skip the flu shot are not only putting themselves at risk, but they are also risking the lives of some of their loved ones, especially young children and anyone they know who might be elderly, sick or otherwise immune compromised. By not getting the flu shot, they are putting the lives of their loved ones at risk.  This is why being a CDC Flu Fighter is so important to me.

What makes it even more surprising that many people will not get the flu shot is the fact that most senior citizens, and many younger Americans, are able to get the shot for free or at a very low cost.  Many insurance companies, pharmacies, workplaces, and community centers offer the shot, so it typically does not require a trip to your doctor's office.  Even if you are reading this article late in the winter or early spring, it is not too late to get an influenza vaccination.  As long as the flu is still spreading in your area, the vaccine can lower your risk of becoming seriously ill.

It is very important that as many people as possible get the flu vaccine, so we can reduce the spread of the disease each winter.  Many senior citizens have underlying health issues which make them more vulnerable to the flu.  Because of this, they rely on the general public to take precautions, so that the vulnerable people are less likely to be exposed.  If you know someone who has heart disease, cancer, kidney disease, or any other serious health problem, the last thing they need is to be exposed to the flu.  The CDC estimates that flu vaccines reduce the risk of an adult being hospitalized for influenza by about 40 percent.  The vaccine also reduces the risk that someone with heart disease will have a cardiac event caused by the flu.

High Dose Flu Vaccine for Senior Citizens

Older Americans may find it particularly helpful to be given a stronger vaccine than the one given to younger adults.  Fluzone High-Dose is an injected flu vaccine which has been formulated specifically for people who are age 65 years and older. It is like other flu vaccines in that it is made up of the three flu strains which experts believe are most likely to cause the flu during the upcoming season.  The benefit to senior citizens, whose immune system is probably weaker than that of younger adults, is that the high-dose vaccine is more likely to boost their immunity if they are exposed to the flu, because it is significantly stronger.

What You Should Know About the Flu

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health workers are very concerned about the danger posed by the flu.  As a result, contacted me and asked if I would publish their "Flu Prevention Resource Sheet for Healthcare Workers, Teachers and Concerned Parents" and become a CDC Flu Fighter.  I was pleased to be able to help.  The links below, many of them from the CDC, will be useful to anyone who wants more information about the influenza vaccine, how to prevent the flu, and healthy hygiene. Feel free to forward this free, public information to anyone you believe will benefit from it.  You can also click on the various links and download the resources which are provided.  This resource sheet should answer virtually any question someone has about influenza.  The more people we can encourage to take appropriate precautions, the less severe the flu season is likely to be.

The Flu Prevention Resource Sheet
for Healthcare Workers, Teachers and Concerned Parents

provided by

The U.S. flu season is just beginning, and can last until May (with peak infections hitting between December and February). While it’s far too early to predict the severity of this year’s flu season in the U.S., physicians are encouraging everyone to vaccinate ahead of the anticipated peak infection times.

The following resources serve as a guide for healthcare workers, teachers and concerned parents seeking additional flu-related facts and information.

Remember: stay healthy and stay informed!

Flu Prevention Resources

The CDC's Flu Guide

Emergency Flu Symptoms
Pay attention to particular symptoms such as difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and chest pain or severe abdominal pain which indicate a need to go to the hospital. Check out all symptoms and more information.

Flu Prevention
Prevent the flu to the best of your ability by taking certain key steps such as vaccinating and keeping your hands and common surfaces clean. Learn more tips here:

Flu Vaccination Resources

1. Vaccination Overview
Complete Guide to the 2019-2020 Influenza Vaccine

The Flu Vaccine and Where to Get It

Senior Flu Shot Finder

2. Managing Vaccine Resistant Attitudes and Beliefs
How to Talk to Patients Who Object to the Flu Vaccine

Flu Shots and Persuasion

Flu Prevention Hygiene Resources

1. Hand Hygiene
Guideline for Hand Hygiene in Health-Care Settings

Hand Hygiene: Why, How & When?

Proper Hand Hygiene for Infection Prevention

2. Coughing Hygiene
Respiratory Hygiene/Cough Etiquette in Healthcare Settings

Transmission-Based Precautions | Droplet Precautions

Does Wearing a Surgical Mask Prevent the Flu?

Flu mask: Should I wear one?

3. Home Hygiene: Effective Disinfecting
How to Disinfect Your House After the Flu

Five Sneaky Places Germs May be Hiding in Your Home — and How to Clean Them

10 Things to Clean After the Flu

Cleaning after the flu: how to clean after the flu

Institutional Prevention Resources

Prevention Strategies for Seasonal Influenza in Healthcare Settings

Guideline on the prevention and control of seasonal influenza in healthcare setting

Action Steps for Teachers to Prevent the Spread of Flu

Guidance for School Administrators to Help Reduce the Spread of Seasonal Influenza in K-12 Schools

How To Clean and Disinfect Schools To Help Slow the Spread of Flu

Keep Flu Out of School: A Resource Toolkit

If you are interested in additional information about common illnesses as we age, Medicare, Social Security, financial planning, where to retire and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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Flu Information Graphics: Courtesy of the CDC as Images to Share

All of the links in this article were provided by Public Health Corps.  None of them are paid links.  This is a public service post.

Disclosure: Some articles on this blog may contain affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase, I'll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.