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Cancer patients burdened by medical debt may choose bankruptcy

Whether it is a friend with leukemia or an aunt with breast cancer, most people in Washington have been touched by the devastating effects of cancer at some point in their lives. The treatment for cancer can be long and arduous, but for victims and their families, it can be well worth it. However, many victims have another adversary to deal with even after going into remission -- medical debt. Even cancer patients with otherwise good health insurance coverage often find that the dark cloud of debt from their treatment can loom for years after recovering.

One out-of-state family was burdened with roughly $300,000 in bills before their mother's health insurance even began to cover anything. Initially operated on by a surgeon out of her health care network, complications kept her hospitalized for an additional month. Almost immediately the bills began rolling in.

The family pointed to the timescale needed for cancer treatment as one of the reasons that their mother's debt ballooned to such an enormous amount. They reported that doctors would approach them with a necessary surgery that left them with no real time to consider how much it would cost and what the overall outcome would ultimately be. Another financial burden was a costly medication that doctors said was necessary, but that the insurance refused to approve for coverage. That drug alone added approximately $1,000 a month to the already mounting medical debt.

After combing through the finer details of their mother's insurance policy, the original $300,000 in medical debt was chiseled down to $100,000. Still, even with health insurance and some money in savings, most people in Washington come away from cancer treatment with mountains of medical bills that are seemingly impossible to pay back. For many people, this is when filing for personal bankruptcy becomes one of the most appropriate courses of action possible. Depending on a person's other debt and financial status, they might ultimately pursue a Chapter 7 bankruptcy to completely wipe the slate clean, or a Chapter 13, which provides a reorganization of debt with a viable timeline for repayment.

Source: NPR, "Medical Bills Linger, Long After Cancer Treatment Ends", Amanda Aronczyk, March 27, 2015

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