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How sickness is driving Americans bankrupt

Most people are only one or two paychecks away from financial disaster -- and they simply don't have the resources to handle a major medical disaster, even if they have insurance. The financial strain of chronic or sudden illness is driving many ordinary Americans straight into bankruptcy.

This isn't particularly a new problem, but there are signs that it is a worsening one. Many people point to the decision of a Nobel prize winner to auction off his medal in 2015 to pay for his medical bills as a signal that the spiraling cost of illness in American is out of control -- but it's really been that way for a while. Back in 2001, approximately one-half of the debtors who sought bankruptcy protection cited medical debt as the reason. Just a few years later, in 2007, a whopping two-thirds of bankruptcy petitions involved medical debt.

Even if you have health insurance, there's no guarantee that you can handle the expense of a chronic or catastrophic illness. In 2018 alone, consumers added roughly $88 billion in medical debt to their shared burden -- and much of that will go unpaid because families have to choose between keeping food on the table and keeping up with the bills.

Even credit card debt can spiral out of control during an illness. Until people have experienced the real cost of chronic or severe illness, they don't realize all of the expenses involved -- and many of those will be unique to the situation. A cancer diagnosis, for example, may require the victim to go out of town for appropriate treatment. Travel costs aren't covered by insurance -- and neither is the hotel room and food for their driver when the victim can't travel alone.

If a medical crisis has driven you into unmanageable debt, you have no reason to be ashamed. It may be time to find out how a Chapter 7 bankruptcy can help.

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