This happened to my Mother. Twice. Not quite $100K each time, but huge, life-altering medical bills.
My parents have always struggled. They have never had great jobs and they’ve never had medical insurance. My Dad is covered through the VA but that’s it. They did not have any coverage for basic care, let alone catastrophic coverage.
About 15 years ago my mom had some health issues that lead to the discovery of a large tumor in her uterus. It was bigger than a grapefruit and weighed 7 pounds. It required a ton of tests and a hysterectomy along with pathology to rule out cancer and aftercare to help with hormones and the recovery process. After all the bills came in, it was about $68K.
My parents were already in a tight financial position. We went to the hospital and filled out all the hardship request forms. Submitted all the financial proof. All while the bills continued to come in and become past due. The stress was unreal. My mom had used all her time off from work and couldn’t go to the financial meetings at the hospital. My dad didn’t understand all the documents. It was a terrible experience.
In the end, the bills were reduced and a payment plan was outlined. Sounds good, right? It was insulting and unreasonable.
The total bill was reduced to about $23k. The payment plan was for 36 months. $638/mo. People who don’t have a car payment, don’t have credit card debt, have zero retirement savings, and never have more than $1000 in the bank. There was no way they could make the payments. I work in accounting, I reworked their budget…they could maybe swing $400/mo if they didn’t buy new clothes and never had to spend on vehicle maintenance for the three years.
They failed to make the payments in order to save the $1500 for a bankruptcy attorney. It was their only option. When we were in front of the judge, my Mom just couldn’t stop crying. She would have paid for 20 years and never missed a payment. But demanding the 36mo terms cost my parents 7 years of financial hardship. They couldn’t refinance their home. They were afraid to change jobs for fear of credit checks. They couldn’t get a new cell phone plan without a cash deposit or co-signer.
The second time was more recent and went basically the same way. The only difference was that my Dad had started to draw social security. He also still works full time, so they effectively had three small income streams. They had planned on saving those SS payments for as long as Dad could still work full time. They were hoping to build a small nest egg. But mom got sick again. Breast cancer. No insurance. This time they ended with $43k in medical bills after discounts. They are 2 years into their payment plan. They have credit card debt for the first time in years. I pay their electric and phone bill. My brother does their auto maintenance.
So, sure. There were lots of other things that contributed to their financial insolvency. But medical debt is what has stolen their hope and broken their spirit.
My parents have not worked. They’ve both been at their jobs for over 20 years. Not everyone is an ambitious ladder climber. Their whole life is about making a home-cooked dinner every night, having an amazing garden that they share with the neighborhood, and watching their grandson play baseball.
All of these answers and comments about how few bankruptcies are really because of medical bills drive me crazy. Does it matter? Why is it acceptable to burden someone’s financial future because of unexpected medical bills? Why are we ok breaking people’s spirits. My dad is 70, working a physically demanding job. He’s been hurt on the job a couple of times. He’s losing dexterity in his hands and his feet don’t even look like normal feet anymore. But he loves my mom. He feels guilty for failing to provide even though he’s always worked. He used a grinder and a piece of scrap brass to make a heart for her. He had it engraved to say “Forever and 10 years” the length of time he’ll love her.
Medical bills shouldn’t impact people, not the way it has affected my parents. If my mom or dad gets sick again, I want to love them and support them. But all the while, I’ll be crunching their budget and mine, talking to the hospital and desperately hoping one more medical bill doesn’t cost them their independence….just their dignity.
Mother, ex-wife, single and over 40, dog mom