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Millions of Americans are struggling with medical debt

Most of the Ohio residents who file a personal bankruptcy each year do so because of overwhelming medical debts. Figures published recently in the Journal of General Internal Medicine put the number of Americans facing financial hardship due to doctor and hospital bills at 137 million, and about half of the people polled recently by TD Ameritrade said that they would consider using funds that they have saved for their retirement years to pay medical expenses.

Americans with medical problems often find themselves burdened with debt because they do not know that the cost of treatment can vary widely. A surgeon from Johns Hopkins Hospital who has studied health care costs in the United States found that a heart procedure that would cost as much as $500,000 at many hospitals is performed for just $44,000 at some medical facilities. He says that patients should shop around before agreeing to treatment and negotiate the cost of procedures before signing any financial consent forms.

Even patients who shop carefully and negotiate the cost of treatment can find themselves facing tens of thousands of dollars in hospital bills. Hospitals sometimes offer to forgive or reduce the amount owed when patients are unable to pay, but most consumers do not qualify for these programs even when they are available. This is why so many Americans with medical debt take out credit card loans or borrow against their home equity or retirement funds.

Attorneys with debt relief experience might point out that retirement funds in 401(k) and IRA accounts are protected from creditors when individuals file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcies. Lawyers may also explain that an automatic stay is issued when a bankruptcy is filed that requires lenders and bill collectors to stop hounding customers for payment. In addition to ending daily harassment, the automatic stay puts a halt to debt-related lawsuits and wage garnishments.

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