Richard J. Shurtz, Attorney at Law

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Patients choose between life-saving care and medical debt

The rising cost of health care is a burden on the minds of most people in Washington, as even the healthiest patients struggle with insurance costs and co-payments. The situation can be even more dire for individuals who cannot afford to purchase their own health insurance but who are also not eligible for any type of Medicaid. These people often face dehumanizing choices, such as whether to seek necessary treatment and take on insurmountable medical debt or forego life-saving care.

An out-of-state mother of three understands that heart-wrenching decision all too well. Already tens of thousands of dollars in debt, her struggle began roughly two years ago when she awoke to a headache and swallowing difficulty. When symptoms did not diminish with antihistamines, she went to the hospital, where she was ultimately prescribed additional antihistamines. At the time, she had recently divorced her husband and was soon at the emergency room at least once a week for increasingly troubling symptoms.

After losing a significant amount of weight and dealing with lost sensations in some of her limbs and hearing loss, some doctors even insisted that her condition was purely psychological. According to them, she had been racking up thousands of dollars of debt for something that she had made up in her mind. The real story came out during an MRI, when her congenital Chiari malformation was diagnosed. She then learned that she would need surgery in order to stem the damage being caused by her cerebellum as it pushes against her spinal canal.

Living with a chronic illness often makes it difficult to maintain gainful employment, further complicating many Washington patients' struggles with medical debt. Some individuals even find it difficult to focus on their recoveries when they are haunted by the phone ringing, knowing that creditors are likely on the other side. In these types of situations, filing for bankruptcy can provide a sense of peace and hope for consumers by halting harassing phone calls and starting the process toward more secure financial futures.

Source:, "In need of brain surgery, Idaho woman can't get insurance or Medicaid", Audrey Dutton, April 16, 2016

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