Rants 'n' Raves|24/11/2011

Medical Bankruptcy in America

Medical bankruptcy

Medical bankruptcy accounts for 60% of all personal bankruptcies in America

Trina is a friend of my younger sister Nicole. To be fair, she is a friend of the family.  I have know her as my sister’s sidekick for more than 20 years. I haven’t seen Trina for 10 years,  but ran into her on my last visit home.

“So, what are you doing with yourself?” I asked.  She took and deep breath and said, “Well, I am working for a non-profit organization in South Carolina as substance abuse counselor.” Say what?

Trina told me her story. How after working for a market research firm in Charlotte, she decided to do something ‘more’ with her life. So she quit her job, went back to school and got her masters in psychology. Two years later and a masters degree in hand, she starts looking for work and finds nothing.

“No one was hiring and no one was hiring people with a psych degree,” said Trina. “It was really depressing.” She went on to say that she finally found a job 30 miles away in Rock Hill, SC with a non-profit organization managing a staff of six people making less than what she earned before she left her job with the market research firm.

The story was getting stranger by the moment. Here is an attractive, articulate woman with a masters degree that has to travel 30 miles away to get job that is paying her less than when she quit her first job!?

“Do you enjoy it,” I asked.  Lord, if you are going to make a career and financial sacrifice like that please tell me you are doing it for a good reason.  “Well, it’s not what I expected,” she said. “I was hoping to work with disadvantaged women, but I mostly work with 18-25 year old African American men who are out of work and get stoned all day.”

“So”, I said, “your job is to get people who have no work, no skills and no money to stop smoking weed?” “That about sums it up,” said Trina.  Good luck with that.

“Why do you stay with it?” She responded, “For the health insurance.”

Ladies and gentleman, welcome to America. Where smart people do stupid things to ensure they don’t end up in medical bankruptcy because they get sick.

So I re-tell this story to a couple of friends in the US, and each one of them nods their head in a knowing ‘been there, heard that’ kinda way. Then they start telling me train wreck stories of how healthcare bills have forced their friends and family to sell businesses, homes and have nervous breakdowns (not covered by insurance, by the way) to avoid medical bankruptcy.

How the hell did this happen?

How did America manage to go from first world to third world in a generation? How can people lose savings, homes, and careers because they got into an accident or injured their back?

A 2009 study by the American Journal of Medicine reported that medical bills were behind 62% of all bankruptcies filed in the US. The kicker? Most of those bankruptcies involved middle class, well educated homeowners who HAVE health insurance. According to the study, three-quarters of the people who filed for  medical bankruptcy had health insurance, because they could not afford the co-pays, deductibles and uncovered services.

“Unless you’re a Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, you’re one illness away from financial ruin in this country,” says lead author Steffie Woolhandler, MD, of the Harvard Medical School, in Cambridge, Mass.

If you think the situation is going to get better, don’t hold your breath. The latest financial crisis has wiped out jobs, savings and home values leaving John Q Public very exposed.

Will the Affordable Care Act change anything? Will it change everything? Who knows. Sitting on the sidelines and watching the debate from afar, the last thing politicians in America appear concerned about is the people they represent. The impasse on Obamacare is going to the Supreme Court for a decision in 2012, but that is also an election year and anything can happen.

Whatever the outcome, it’s an indictment on the US healthcare system. No. Make that America.

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