Consumer Reports: medical bankruptcies and the ACA

Published: Jun. 29, 2017 at 9:23 PM CDT
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As the Senate works on its plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Katie Weber is paying close attention.

The 29-year old is fighting cancer and she says her expensive treatments would have bankrupted her had it not been for the financial protections of the ACA.

“I don’t know how many MRIs I’ve had, but in the dozens for sure," Weber said.

Courts never ask people why they are filing, but many bankruptcy and legal experts Consumer Reports spoke with agree on this: Medical bills had been a leading cause of personal bankruptcy before health insurance expanded under the ACA.

"Medical bills are often unexpected and large and unavoidable, so people who don’t have insurance can run up massive debt in a relatively short period of time," Consumer Reports' Allen St. John said.

Since 2010, personal bankruptcy filings have dropped by about 50%. Experts say some of that is due to an improved economy and laws passed in 2005 that make it harder to declare bankruptcy. But nearly all the experts CR interviewed also point to expanded health insurance as a major driver of the decline.

“Our reporting found that coverage for pre-existing conditions and also a ban on lifetime limits were really important because it prevented people with serious medical issues form having to file bankruptcy," St. John said.

Making sure those safeguards remain part of any new healthcare reform matters most to Katie Weber.

“Even if I get better, when I get better, the follow-up will be continuous,” Weber said.

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