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Medical bills leave many women with crippling debt

The cost of healthcare is a big concern for many Michigan residents and is one of the main ways that an individual or family can quickly find themselves in serious debt through no fault of their own. When a person is uninsured or simply has poor healthcare coverage, the slightest medical event can bring them to the brink of financial ruin. When the health issue is more significant, many find themselves buried in a mountain of debt that is virtually insurmountable. In fact, a 2009 study conducted by Harvard Medical School and Ohio University reported that 60 percent of all bankruptcies in the United States were the direct result of medical debt.

A new study by the Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit organization that advocates for healthcare reform, states that medical debt affects American women at much higher rates than in other countries. It was reported that 26 percent of U.S. women have had difficulty paying their medical bills in the timeframe between 2009 and 2010. That's compared to rates of four percent among German women and 13 percent among Australian women.

One reason may be that women are accepting jobs with no or poor health care coverage, as they struggle to remain employed in a faltering economy. The Commonwealth group asserts that women are uniquely at risk for high medical debt, in part because insurers charge women more for health care coverage than men. In addition, women are proven to seek out medical care more often than men, but still have lower rates of pay than their male colleagues. The result is a system in which women are far more likely to have financial problems related to medical debt than men.

For women in Michigan who are concerned about the possibility of incurring significant medical charges, making sure that you are adequately insured is the first priority. For those who find themselves already buried in medical debt, there are still options that can ease the financial sting. Repayment plans can be structured with your debtors, which can help spread out the cost of repayment over a longer period of time. For some, bankruptcy offers the best solution, and can even eliminate most, if not all, of your medical debt. Each circumstance is unique, and taking a full assessment of your current financial health is the first step in moving toward a solution to high medical debt.

Source: NBC News, "Medical bills drive many U.S. women into debt, report finds," Maggie Fox, July 13, 2012

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