Most people can recognize that we have a health care crisis in this country. As an attorney with my own practice, I have to go out into the private market to purchase my health insurance. And one might think that a successful attorney would have no problem buying adequate insurance. That is simply not the case. Years ago, when I was young and reckless, skiing, surfing, and doing all the things that young law students with no job do, I managed to herniate a disc in my neck. It never required surgery and some lifestyle changes along with physical therapy seemed to do the trick. Nevertheless, that pre-existing condition, even years later with no symptoms, is apparently not insurable. What does that mean for me? It means, I have insurance with a big glaring hole in it. Not only is my pre-existing condition excluded from coverage under my current health insurance, all neck injuries are excluded, whether or not they are related to that prior condition.
More to the point, however. As an attorney who helps people in need file for bankruptcy protection, rarely do I see someone come into my office who does not have medical debt. The House Judiciary subcommittee recently debated whether medical expenses are currently a key factor in consumer bankruptcy filings. A Harvard study had found that the majority of consumer bankruptcy filings in 2007 were caused by individuals being unable to pay their medical bills. The same study also found that medical debtors were well educated middle class individuals with health insurance. Yes, you read that correctly. The majority of people who filed bankruptcy in 2007 did so because they had medical debt and the majority of these people had health insurance. How can anyone think that the system is working?
We can debate what type of reform is needed, but I think it’s clear that the system must change. If it doesn’t, and I injure my neck again, the next bankruptcy I may be filing is my own.
For another discussion of the medical debt / bankruptcy debate, see this article.