Unaffordable hospital bills are ravaging U.S. families, with research finding that over 137 million Americans have faced hardship in 2019 due to medical costs. In fact, high health-care bills are the leading reason Americans would consider pulling funding out of their retirement savings. Even then, some people are left with no choice but to file for bankruptcy: nearly two-thirds of all people who file personal bankruptcies in the U.S. name medical issues as a “key contributor to their financial downfall.
What many don’t realize is that this doesn’t exclusively happen to those without health insurance. Millions of insured Americans have inadequate health-care coverage, often with unaffordable high deductibles and copays, and don’t have an accessible alternative to choose from. Dr. David U. Himmelstein, founder of the advocacy group Physicians for a National Health Program, commented on this point, saying “people don’t have very good alternatives, because the insurance that is available and affordable to people, or that most people’s employers provide them, is not adequate protection if you’re sick… health insurance is only very partial protection.”
Because of this, many U.S. residents – both insured and uninsured – are left financially struggling and unable to pay their bills after hospital visits. This has led to an influx of medical debt lawsuits filed by healthcare institutions against patients with outstanding medical bills. Ballad Health, which operates 21 hospitals in Virginia and Tennessee, filed over 6,700 lawsuits regarding medical debt in 2018. And in nearly all medical debt cases, judges side with hospitals over patients.
The number of U.S. hospitals willing to sue patients over unpaid bills is on the rise. Hospital representatives argue that such lawsuits are necessary to keep health systems afloat; according to the Vice President for System Innovation at Ballad Health, Anthony Keck, “[Ballad] is only pursuing patients who have the means to pay but choose not to.” On the flipside, those stuck with medical bills argue that hospitals are misguided in their assumption that patients can afford to pay.
One such patient, 41-year old Amanda Sturgill, is supporting four children, going through a divorce and earns $12.70 an hour at her full-time position. She frequently struggles to keep up with her hospital bill payment plan, which requires her to pay $150-a-month to settle an outstanding debt of $2,500. Talking about the debt she owes Ballad, Sturgill said “I know I owe it, which is fine, and of course I want to pay it. It just seems like they want their money no matter what my situation is.” She has resorted to selling her things at the flea market and getting by on “a lot of cheap soup, beans and sandwiches.”
Personal Injury is a Leading Cause of High and Unexpected Medical Bills: Lawyers Can Help
Why am I, a San Francisco personal injury lawyer, writing this blog? Because, in each and every one of our cases, when our clients have suffered serious personal injuries through no fault of their own, one of the first major questions for each of my clients is “how am I going to deal with these medical bills?” Medical debt can happen at any time and can accumulate rapidly, especially after hospitalization due to an accident. To get hit with a lawsuit for the debt – which you may or may not be able to afford to pay off – multiplies the stress of being injured. This additional financial burden, when many of our clients have been disabled from their professions by the same serious injuries, is often more than many injured clients can handle on their own. Consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney is critical to assuring that you don’t have to pay unexpected medical bills out of your own pocket. More often than not, the party responsible for injuring our client does not have adequate liability insurance to cover the damages they have caused. And usually, the person who is at fault for a collision does not have the financial resources to pay our clients’ medical bills from their own pocket either. These real-life situations, where no one has enough money to make our client whole and to pay all of their medical bills, is where our experience and creativity make a difference.
An experienced personal injury attorney should be able to help you allocate your settlement to satisfy all of your medical bills and also to provide you with some recovery in your pocket, even though the negligent driver did not have enough insurance. Often, finding solutions about how to make the medical bill collectors go away is more challenging than obtaining the settlement in the first place. I recommend that you find an attorney who can obtain the maximum amount in settlement and then allocate the settlement in a way that benefits you most. Attorneys can help recognize and protect you from unfair medical debt collection, dispute debt if it is the wrong amount or already been paid and help you figure out your best legal options.
For comments, questions or legal services from a proven San Francisco personal injury lawyer who knows how to maximize a client’s net recovery, please feel free to call me at 415-432-7290 or visit www.ccwlawyers.com. All calls and email inquiries are covered by the attorney client privilege and are strictly confidential.
Claude A. Wyle is a partner of Choulos Choulos, and Wyle, a San Francisco based law firm dedicated to representing clients who have been injured by the wrongful conduct of individuals, corporations, public entities, and businesses. Mr. Wyle also frequently sits as a Judge Pro Tem for the city and county of San Francisco.
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