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Struggling with medical debt

About a quarter of the working-age adults in Florida and around the country struggled with past-due medical bills in 2015 according to a study published on March 1 by the Urban Institute. The Washington, D.C., think tank says that younger Americans and those who earn less than $35,000 per year are more likely to be in this situation, and these findings echo research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation that suggest about 20 percent of Americans face unmanageable medical debt.

Past-due medical debt levels have fallen in recent years as more low-income Americans have obtained health insurance following the passage of the Affordable Care Act, but the drop has not been pronounced in states like Florida that have chosen not to expand Medicaid. The number of working-age adults in the Sunshine State with unpaid medical bills fell only slightly from 28.6 percent to 28.1 percent between 2012 and 2015 according to the UI study.

Another UI study suggests that having financial knowledge is not likely to prevent Americans from falling into debt. The study was based on the debt levels of individuals who were asked to answer five financial questions. Those who answered four or five of the questions correctly were found to be only 7 percent less likely to have unpaid hospital or doctor bills than those who were able to answer none or only one of the questions.

Even those with health insurance could find themselves staring into a financial abyss after a serious injury or illness, and the information about the various debt relief options available to them can be confusing and contradictory. Attorneys with experience in this area could clear up the misconceptions and myths surrounding personal bankruptcy, and they may explain how a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 filing differs from alternatives like debt consolidation and settlement.

Source: The Advisory Board, “Where the states stand on Medicaid expansion”, Jan. 13, 2016

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