So, I was really thrilled with the Obamacare ruling. I was too cowardly to make a call ahead of time, plus predicting is quite clearly a “jinx” (just FYI) so anyone who was brave enough to write it down gets all credit from me whether they were right or wrong.
On that, we talk a lot about medical debt and bankruptcy, but the thing about bankruptcy is, if it’s a Chapter 7, medical debt is discharged. It goes away.
Medical debt is much, much bigger than that. Bankruptcy is really the last stop on the medical debt misery train for working class or middle class people. There are a lot of interim stops along the way that are not so great: reallocating family resources to paying down medical debt, wage garnishment, liens, and on and on.
With any luck, if this thing works right, maybe some of this will go away (pdf):
In 2007, more than two out of five working-age adults—41 percent—had trouble paying their health care bills, or were already paying off medical debt.The consequences of medical debt are serious. People who have medical debt worry about their health care bills and may therefore delay getting needed care—or go without it entirely. Medical debt also contributes to bankruptcy and housing insecurity, and it leaves consumers vulnerable to serious consequences when they are sued by health care providers or debt collectors—consequences such as wage garnishment, home foreclosure, and damaged credit.
Why Is Medical Debt Different from Other Kinds of Debt?
Medical Debt Strikes without Warning When People Are Most Vulnerable
Unlike credit card debt or other kinds of debt, medical debt is usually beyond a person’s control and impossible to plan for.
Illness and injury happen suddenly and unexpectedly. People don’t choose to get sick or to be injured, but when this happens, they find themselves with unplanned and involuntary health care expenses. These expenses can run into the thousands of dollars.
Making monthly payments toward health care bills can be a strain under the best of circumstances, and a long-term illness can make a difficult situation even worse.
If people with serious health problems have to miss work because of their health, they may earn less money and may have even greater difficulty paying off their bills.
I see medical debt that doesn’t reach crisis bankruptcy stage often, where I live, and I think it should be addressed when we talk about the costs of our decades-long avoidance of universal coverage.
We are paying for our current health care system. It isn’t free. When we analyze the costs and benefits of Obamacare, maybe we should take into account that a lot of uninsured and underinsured people are paying for the health care they receive, whether they can “afford it” or not, and they aren’t necessarily lining up voluntarily to pay these bills. In many cases, a court is issuing a judgment and then their wages are being garnished.
Understand, I don’t object to providers getting paid. They provide an essential service and they should absolutely get paid for the work that they do. What I object to is the idea that the uninsured or underinsured aren’t being compelled to pay for anything, so anything they pay for insurance under Obamacare is all downside and government seizure and an intolerable loss of liberty. They’re paying, plenty, in the wonderful “system” we have now, and having your wages garnished looks nothing at all like “freedom” to me.