Affordable Care Act may not solve problem of medical debt in US

The Affordable Care Act is the largest expansion of health insurance programs in the U.S. in over 40 years. While many applaud the ACA as a means for extending health insurance to the uninsured across the U.S., it may not help those who struggle with medical debt as much as people hoped. Medical debt plagues many in the U.S., and people struggling with medical debt should be aware of the debt relief options available to them.

Medical debt overwhelming in the U.S.

Medical debt is a serious problem for many in the U.S., according to the National Health Information Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control released in January 2014. The survey found that one in four families had problems paying medical bills in 2012. About 9 percent of families had bills that they could not pay at all. Families with incomes at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level were the ones who struggled the most with medical bills.

According to a study conducted by the consumer finance website NerdWallet in 2013, medical bills displaced credit card debt and mortgage debt as the leading cause of people filing bankruptcy.

Many with insurance still struggle

A surprising finding from the NerdWallet study is that those who struggle with medical bills often have insurance. The study estimated that about 10 million people in the U.S. had difficulty paying their medical bills, even though they had year-round insurance coverage. GiveForward, an internet-based fundraising organization, reported that 78 percent of those who filed bankruptcy because of medical debt had health insurance.

As the number of insured people struggling with medical bills indicates, health insurance does not cover all medical expenses. People can still amass serious bills from things like insurance premium payments and co-pay costs, coupled with travel to and from health care facilities, lost wages for time off of work, childcare costs and other expenses. Many of the insurance programs offered on the Health Insurance Marketplace established by the ACA have high deductibles and co-pays, meaning that people will still have significant out-of-pocket medical costs, even with insurance.

Bankruptcy may be a solution to debt

While those who have serious medical debt may feel like they have nowhere to turn, help is available. People with substantial medical debt may want to consider filing bankruptcy as a means of dealing with their debt. Medical bills and many other unsecured debts can be discharged in bankruptcy. Without the cloud of medical bills hanging over them, along with the interest that accrues on those bills while they remain unpaid, people have more of an ability to reorganize their financial situations.

If you have questions about your options for dealing with medical bills, speak with a skilled bankruptcy attorney who can review your circumstances and advise you about the best way to proceed.