September 28, 2009

Whitehouse Hears from Rhode Islanders Struggling with High Medical Bills

New Legislation Could Help Ease Hardships Caused by Medical Debt

Pawtucket, RI – A group of Rhode Islanders burdened with debt from expensive medical costs today gathered at the Blackstone Valley Community Action Program in Pawtucket to share their stories. The group met with U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to discuss the problems caused by crippling medical debt and the burdens it places on families.

“We need to lend a helping hand to families that are enduring backbreaking debt caused by big medical bills,” said Whitehouse.

A recent Harvard study found that illness and medical bills were linked to over 62% of personal bankruptcy filings in 2007. Today’s discussion featured stories from several Rhode Islanders who have themselves been forced to consider bankruptcy as a result of medical expenses, including Kerry, a Coventry resident whose son died of complications from Cystic Fibrosis.

“During my son’s fight, my husband and I were right by his side,” said Burns. “As a result of our dedication to our son and his health, we both had to leave our jobs… We have since lost our house, and are in the process of bankruptcy. Not only did we lose our son, we lost everything else, even though our insurance covered the majority of Finn’s hospital costs.”

Whitehouse has introduced legislation to assist families struggling under the weight of medical debt. The Medical Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2009 (S. 1624) would make the bankruptcy process quicker and less expensive for filers with high medical debts and increase their chances of retaining their homes. The bill would allow the retention of at least $250,000 of home value through the bankruptcy process, helping families incurring high medical bills to keep their homes. It would also remove credit counseling requirements that are unnecessary when the cause of bankruptcy is not poor financial management but a medical crisis, and waive the so-called “means test,” making the filing process quicker and less costly. This provision would also help ensure that people have the ability to file to have their debts discharged in Chapter 7, the most efficient and simplest bankruptcy process available.

“For the people at the event today and the millions like them in Rhode Island and throughout the country, it’s time to do something about this problem,” Whitehouse said. “Too often, things seem to be rigged against them.”


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