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Medical debt can be wiped out in bankruptcy

Mountains of medical debt can bury even successful young professionals who are on fast-track career paths to success. Such was the case for a former Texas resident and her cancer-stricken spouse.

Back in 2007, she was working as an art director for a Houston television production company. Her fiancé was finishing up his doctoral studies in robotics at Rice University. The future appeared to be bright for the 20-something couple. Then, her fiancé was diagnosed with neuroendocrine carcinoma. This aggressive form of cancer attacks the body's endocrine cells and is difficult to treat.

Nevertheless, they remained optimistic and accelerated their marriage plans while he sought treatment. As this was years before the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), his student health insurance policy soon maxed out its lifetime coverage cap for prescription drugs and treatment. Before his untimely death, he amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills for which his wife is still responsible.

The ACA doesn't eliminate medical debts

While its passage heralded a new era of coverage for millions of uninsured Americans, the ACA doesn't prevent medical bills from accruing. In fact, according to one JAMA Oncology study, insured cancer patients still spend an average of 11 percent of their salaries on out-of-pocket health care expenses. Co-pays and deductibles are also increasing, making coverage not always that affordable.

A decade after her husband's death, she now works at Duke University as a radiation oncologist. Ironically, she now studies how financial stress affects cancer patients. It's referred to as the "financial toxicity of cancer care," and it's considerable.

If your or a family member's ill health has buried you in debts you'll never be able to afford, there is hope on the horizon. While you may never have entertained the thought of filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy before, your present circumstances indicate that this may be your only way out of the morass of debt.

When you're recovering from an accident or serious illness, your focus needs to be on the healing process. The toxicity of your fiscal situation can degrade your quality of life. Should you succumb to your illness or injuries, your spouse will still be deeply in debt. Break the shackles of debt and begin anew with a clean slate.

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