Nine years after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, Americans are continuing to live with crushing amounts of medical debt.
One in six people in the US have medical debt on their credit report, and together owe $81 billion, according to 2016 data in the journal Health Affairs. And the impact is especially felt among young Americans. People in their mid-twenties to mid-forties are far more likely to have a new medical bill in collection (meaning the lender sent it to a collection agency and it could be on your credit report) than older patients. Also, the size of the medical debt in collection is much higher among people in their mid-twenties, likely due to the types of health insurance they tend to have as well as having lower incomes, according to the Health Affairs report.
The Affordable Care Act, which largely went into effect in 2014, aimed to address some of these exact problems, allowing millions of people to sign up for health insurance and setting annual out-of-pocket maximums on how much a person spends on heath care, as long as they stick to covered services from in-network providers. “Everybody knew that finally something needed to be done about America’s broken health care system. It was no longer working for families who were seeing more and more of their incomes eaten by health costs, causing real hardships for working people,” President Obama said in 2010. The new law would required insurers to cover preexisting conditions, to eliminate annual dollar limits on coverage, and to allow children to stay on their parents’ plan until the age of 26. Despite new protections for consumers, spending on health care continues to grow faster than the economy. And while the ACA established federal funding for consumer assistance programs to help patients with questions and complaints about their health insurance coverage, funding for such programs has not been reauthorized (some states continue to fund such efforts).
“Medical debt is still a problem in general for Americans, including for people with health insurance,” said Karen Pollitz, senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “High cost sharing and high deductibles are the first reason why people have med bills they can’t afford to pay, even though they have med insurance, and there are bills from getting out-of-network care without knowing it.”
We asked the BuzzFeed Community how medical debt (which for this story does not necessarily mean it is in collections) impacts their lives. The stories are intense: Some continue to deal with six-figure debt that originated before the ACA was implemented; some have large debts from services that were not covered by insurance and thus are not covered by rules that cap how much you pay each year out of pocket. Others shared details about the cycle of mental health issues resulting in medical debt that, in turn, impacts their mental health.
“The stories of everyday Americans and, more importantly, the courage it took to share those stories is what kept this effort alive and moving forward even when it looked like it was lost. They are why we got this done,” President Obama said nine years ago. But that was not the end. Here are the stories of Americans today.
Note: Some of these stories mention depression and suicide. If you are dealing with thoughts of suicide, you can speak to someone immediately at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.
I was brought to the ER for a drug overdose.
$8,000 in medical debt
I was brought to the ER for a drug overdose. They pumped my stomach, and then decided to put me on a psych hold because they interpreted the overdose as a suicide attempt. Unfortunately, the psych ward was full, so they held me in the ER for a couple of additional days, during which I did not see a doctor at all. When the psych ward finally had an opening, I was transferred there. A couple of days of sitting around doing puzzles later, I was released after being deemed no harm to myself. I had catastrophic coverage through Obamacare, because that’s all I could afford. So the hospital billed me as much as they could, and I hit my out-of-pocket max of just over $7,000. For being held against my will.
I also got Mirena about three years ago. I was told it was completely covered by insurance. I received a bill just a couple of months ago saying that I owed the pharmacy over $800, despite them telling me at the time that it would be absolutely $0 out of pocket for me.
These plus a couple of urgent care bills ($150–$300) have gone to collections. I’m scared to check my credit score. I can’t afford to pay any of them until I find a job.
Oh, and I also have $50,000 in student loans.
I’ve been battling to get my credit score up so that my family and I can purchase a home, but when my health issues act up, it sets us back even further.
Age 35, $20,000 in medical debt
I’ve had asthma since age 12. Over the past few decades, I have been admitted to the emergency room for this. I also developed an autoimmune disease that pretty much makes my skin attack itself. I’ve been to the hospital a few times for this as well. All of this adds up. Sometimes the ER doctor bills are separate from the hospital, so you will be charged more than a basic copay. Surgery is going to set you back separately as well. I’ve been battling to get my credit score up so that my family and I can purchase a home, but when my health issues act up, it sets us back even further. I feel like I’m in a never-ending battle with debt from medical bills and expenses. It’s literally the only negative thing on my credit report.
I was sexually assaulted.
$3,000 in medical debt
I was sexually assaulted a while back. I went to the hospital as soon as I figured out what happened to get a rape kit procedure performed. The hospital did all the testing they could. Gave my clothes to the police, pictures, swabs…all kinds of horrible things no one should go through. At the moment I wasn’t thinking about money. I was concerned for my health and safety. It came as a shock when I received a bill for something that was out of my control: $2,900. I could make payments and plan to get it paid off, but I couldn’t live with myself if I paid for something that a monster is responsible for.
Even with insurance, due to loopholes it came to a total of $80,000.
Age 27, $80,000 in medical debt
I had an emergency procedure done when I was 22 years old. Fortunately, at the time I was a student so I was still under my parents’ insurance. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to matter with affordability.
I took myself to the ER after being in violent pain, and I was put in a dark room and told to sleep it off — no medicine or tests. This costs me $3,000 with insurance. Forty-eight hours later I went to see my primary doctor to schedule actual testing, and was sent to a hospital to pay another $350 for an ultrasound. Less then an hour later I was admitted to the emergency room for surgery, which resulted in two days in recovery and a month out of work.
After my life-saving procedure, I received endless medical bills. Even with insurance, due to loopholes it came to a total of $80,000.
After being out of work for a month without pay, my car was repossessed and I had to move back in with my dad due to the large debt I owed.
When we got engaged one of his promises to me was that once we were married he would put me on his insurance.
I was diagnosed with lupus three years ago. I had my own insurance, and was struggling. After countless tests, multiple doctors, expensive medications, I was left emptying all of my savings to pay one-fourth of my medical bills — not even all of them! My husband (then boyfriend) and I delayed our dreams of buying a house in order to put more money toward my medical bills. It not only affected me, but it affected him. When we got engaged, one of his promises to me was that once we were married he would put me on his insurance. It seems weird to other people when we tell our engagement story, but for me, it showed how much he loved me. He saw firsthand how even with insurance, the prices of my doctors and medications were drowning me.
We still have debt from those years with my previous insurance, but slowly the debt is being reduced. Even though I had insurance — I was paying $300 for it — my out-of-pocket costs were still through the roof. People would assume, “oh you have insurance; you’ve got a golden ticket,” and that was the biggest lie. My golden ticket still cost me copious amounts of money. NOT ALL INSURANCE IS CREATED EQUAL.
I was a healthy person with insurance.
$12,000 in medical debt
I was a healthy person with insurance through my university, about to finish grad school in 2016. Then I had a nodule spontaneously grow on my thyroid and the biopsy couldn’t rule out cancer, so I needed to have a thyroidectomy to remove it. Even with my insurance, costs from the biopsy, presurgical endoscopy, and surgical costs were [about] $5,000 out of pocket.
I was switching jobs when my appendix burst. No insurance.
$87,000 in medical debt
I was switching jobs when my appendix burst. No insurance. The first ER doctor sent me home and said I was hysterical. Six hours later my [significant other] brought me back nearly dead. I had enormous complications and ended up back in the hospital for an additional week. $59,000 was charged and it’s up to $87,000 with fees now.
I have a very poor credit rating and cannot get a job with any reputable company in my field due to background checks. I cannot rent a home. I cannot buy a car without having a 30% APR. I cannot get married to my [significant other] because in our state he would then be liable for my debt. The kicker is I had just completed a bankruptcy the previous year and I’ll have to wait to file again. #murica
No insurance, seven days in the hospital.
$40,000 in medical debt
No insurance, seven days in the hospital with infected pancreases and gallbladder.
Either certain things that were covered aren’t covered anymore, or your meds go up in price.
Age 36, more than $8,000 in medical debt
I have a medical condition which is called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which affects my heart. I’ve gone through three surgeries, and I may be due for a fourth one. Medical expenses are crazy these days. Either certain things that were covered aren’t covered anymore, or your meds go up in price. I have no choice but to stay insured. I have kids, and trying to maintain some kind of normalcy for myself and my family has become quite difficult.
“Just because we approved the medicine, doesn’t mean we have to cover it.”
Age 25, $64,000 in charges
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s in April. We went back and forth with insurance and they finally said they would approve infusions, which I started in July. In September, I received a bill for $21,000 for one infusion. At that point, I had already had three. I called insurance to see what happened and they said, “Just because we approved the medicine, doesn’t mean we have to cover it.” I ended up getting charged $64,000.
It’s ridiculous you can have an emergency and go to an in-network hospital — only to be assigned out-of-network surgeons — and it is absolutely legal.
Age 43, about $18,000 in medical debt
Early one Sunday morning around 1 a.m., I went to the local emergency room of a hospital that was in-network. An X-ray showed an enlarged gallbladder, and I was told to call my wife and was immediately prepped for surgery. I was never told anything before surgery and woke up hours later minus a gallbladder. A couple months later, I received a bill from the surgeon for $18,000. I found out that the surgeon they called in was out-of-network and had brought in another colleague to assist. My insurance paid the first surgeon a negotiated rate but refused to pay the second. I spoke to the hospital and was told they call in whichever emergency doctor and could not help. It was turned over to collections and as of the last time I checked, it was $18,000. I a veteran but did not want to drive 25 minutes farther to [the veterans affairs hospital]. That was a mistake. It continues to haunt my credit, but I will never pay them. It’s ridiculous you can have an emergency and go to an in-network hospital only to be assigned out-of-network surgeons, and it is absolutely legal.
Some doctors now refuse to see me due to the debt I’ve defaulted on.
Age 47, $13,481 in medical debt.
I have multiple autoimmune diseases (RA, Psoriasis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Asthma, Eosinophilic Esophagitis, and Dysautonomia). These diseases are all chronic, all impact my daily life, and all cost me a lot of money. I typically meet my out-of-pocket max by February each year.
I was unemployed for three months in 2017, which meant I was uninsured (COBRA was out of the question at over $1,000 per month). While unemployed, I had an emergency issue that sent me to the ER. That visit alone was over $5,000, after the hospital worked with me to give me some financial assistance. Later, after I landed a new job and new health insurance, I had emergency surgery to repair an incarcerated hernia. That surgery resulted in complications. The stay in the hospital for the surgery, and then another separate stay to handle the complications, upped my total owed to over $13,000.
I’ve been sent to collections multiple times due to unpaid health care bills. My continuity of care has been interrupted due to the fact that some doctors now refuse to see me due to the debt I’ve defaulted on. I’ve considered declaring bankruptcy due to my medical bills, but it seems moot, as I will just rack up new bills.
I completely shut down over the stress, and my hospital bills went into collections.
Age 27, over $22,000 in medical debt
When I was 26, my appendix almost burst. On my first visit to the ER I was checked for ovarian cysts, and given a few different scans. Then, I was sent home and told to come back if the pain got worse — it did. I had surgery and a couple of nights in the hospital. I tried applying for Medicaid but was denied. I panicked when I got the bill. I was off work for two weeks between the surgery and recovery, which already set me behind on my monthly bills, and I was still in school at the time.
Eventually, I called to set up a payment plan with the hospital’s billing dept. They offered me the option to pay around $230 a month. I told them I could only afford $100 or possibly $125 and they told me they were not able to lower the payment options. There was no help.
About six months after my appendix surgery, I slipped on ice and broke my arm. That was another surgery and around four months off of work. Luckily those bills were covered by workers’ comp. I was able to get some small workers’ comp checks while off of work, but they only covered my normal bills.
I completely shut down over the stress, and my hospital bills went into collections. My credit score just went down drastically, because I still have medical bills in collections. I have more frequent mental breakdowns, anxiety attacks, and low moments due to the financial stress. I’ve had some help paying my bills, and for that I’m grateful, but the reality is, there is not a lot of help.
Fertility coverage is something that should be covered on everyone’s insurance.
Age 38, $47,000 in spending on IVF
We’ve paid it all off, but we’ve spent $47,000 so far this year on medical treatments. The vast majority of that has been for IVF.
My husband and I were devastated to hear that a single cycle of IVF would be roughly $22,000 to $25,000. We knew this was our best shot, so we ended up taking $30,000 of equity out of our home to be able to afford the treatments.
Long story short, our first cycle failed. We lost about $15,000 on that cycle, with nothing to show for it. We have now switched clinics, and are driving over 200 miles round trip to a top-rated clinic in San Francisco. Still not pregnant, but we do have a few frozen embryos, and we are going through another retrieval to hopefully make some more.
All told, so far this year, including acupuncture to boost fertility, surgery copays, labs, medications, supplements, and fees to IVF clinics, as well as mileage to and from San Francisco, we are at $47,000 and counting. And this may be all for nothing; there is no guarantee I’ll be able to get pregnant.
Fertility coverage is something that should be covered on everyone’s insurance. We were fortunate that we’ve been able to come up with the money, but it’s been at great sacrifice.
I had two insurance providers and neither would cover my hospitalizations.
Age 28, about $40,000 in medical debt
In 2010 I had a gallbladder infection. At the time I did not have insurance. I ended up in the ER vomiting uncontrollably for hours. An emergency surgery and a weeklong hospital stay later, I ended up with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Some of the cost was covered by a charity, some I borrowed money to cover, and the rest I put on my credit card.
I thought the story would end there, but it didn’t. It began a very long relationship with doctors, hospitals, and bills. I started having suicidal thoughts. A psychologist told me he couldn’t help me and dropped me, but sent a few thousand in bills because at this point I still did not have insurance. I tried to kill myself, which landed me in the hospital, and I continued to accrue thousands of dollars in debt to treat my depression.
In 2016 I got severely ill. After about seven months of going to doctors, my employer decided he couldn’t keep letting me take so many sick days and I was let go. This led to a spiral in both my physical health and mental health. I attempted suicide twice that year — more bills. I kept putting them on my credit cards.
In 2017 I was hospitalized twice. Luckily I had insurance through my husband’s employer. Unbeknownst to me, I was signed up automatically for another insurance provider through my employer while I was in the hospital. Because I was hospitalized, I was not aware I had this insurance for about 45 days. My hospitalizations would have been covered by my husband’s insurance, but because of this additional insurance provider I had, my husband’s insurance decided to kick back every single claim and stranded me with about $35,000 in bills. The other insurance I had would not cover the hospitalizations because they had never approved a prior authorization. I had two insurance providers and neither would cover my hospitalizations. Recently my insurance has denied claims, more than a year later, and will not cover them because “more than one year has passed and we will no longer reprocess these claims as valid.”
My debt load is so high that I can no longer see a doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist. I just can’t afford it, and I am scared to death the debt load will get worse. I acknowledge that putting the debt on credit cards was stupid, but I was always optimistic that I would get better and be able to work at full capacity again. I lose sleep and have panic attacks when I see the pile of bills from providers I have to deal with. —poultrychampeclipse
As a preschool teacher, I barely make $30,000 before taxes, but my medical expenses are in the thousands.
In the winter of 2012, I was walking to work in Philadelphia and slipped on a small, unshoveled patch of black ice. The doctors would not give me an MRI until I completed six weeks of physical therapy, which made my symptoms a hundred times worse. At some point, I picked up a new health insurance plan through my work and stopped paying for my other plan. Since it was the same insurance company, I assumed they would just switch plans for me. But five months later, my original plan automatically reinstated itself with the new year — but I was not paying for it. My [physical therapist] billed the wrong plan for months of PT, and insurance would not do anything about it, even though I went to headquarters and showed them the mistake. I’m left with over $1,000 in debt that the insurance company won’t pay because the wrong plan was billed.
Eventually I got an MRI that concluded that I had a herniated disc and a desiccated disc. Both of these issues were making it not only excruciatingly painful all over my body, but also difficult to do simple physical things, like stand, sit, walk, exercise, etc. I have thousands of dollars’ worth of debt now from simply just trying not to be in pain.
As a preschool teacher, I barely make $30,000 before taxes, but my medical expenses are in the thousands. I have not been able to pay off these debts, and my credit is ruined. I get calls from collection agents each day, but I have to pick and choose what bills to pay since I make so little money in my career. I have to live with my debts, and neither my body, nor my credit score, will ever be the same.
For most of the past 21 years I have not had health insurance.
Age 47, at least $50,000 of medical debt
I have dealt with health issues since I was 19 years old. At age 25 I had major surgery to remove a massive fibroid tumor from my uterus; at 26 I began to experience intense pain in my right thigh. Now at 47, I have several medical conditions, including a rare chronic condition (Dercum’s disease), skeletal issues, etc. For most of the past 21 years I have not had health insurance.
My debt has been accumulated over many years of having to use the ER for health care. Because chest pain is a frequent issue and because I have abdominal issues, it can be terrifying to just wait things out. I only go in for extreme or highly unusual pain, or a big fall, but in the last 45 days that has been four times — more often than usual, but it happens.
I recently got a job that will allow me to chip away, but I definitely struggle.
In between trying to pay for student loans, mortgage, day care, prescriptions, car payment, and everyday bills, they continue to call.
Age 29, about $40,000 in medical debt
I developed epilepsy out of the blue at 14. Every time I have a seizure in public, they insist on calling an ambulance. If I am taken, I have to pay the $200 ER visit and then pay for other charges. I automatically get a CT scan and MRI. If I have hit my head, there’s an X-ray.
The debt racks up. They call me at work. I have written letters. I have done payment plans. In between trying to pay for student loans, mortgage, day care, prescriptions, car payment, and everyday bills, they continue to call.
I got the wrong surgery. Thus began the year from hell.
$8,000 in remaining medical bills
Since the cost of health insurance is so high, naturally I pick the cheapest one but with the highest deductible. This wasn’t a big deal until I started having health problems. I found out I have endometriosis last year. I had surgery and my out of pocket was somewhere around $5,000. I got the wrong surgery. Thus began the year from hell. I started developing severe nausea in January of [last] year. I was in the ER three times because of the nausea and racked up another $2,600 in bills. An endo excision specialist performed the correct surgery in July, but that came with a $3,000 bill and an almost $300 pathology bill. Unfortunately I found out I had adenomyosis so I had a hysterectomy. As of today, I have around $8,000 remaining in medical bills. But I always pay them. Every month. It’s affected my credit because we’ve had to rely on credit cards to get through some months. So on top of medical bills, we have credit card bills which amount to close to $10,000. This may not seem like much, but for a single-income family. I haven’t been able to work because of endo, and child care costs are ridiculous. It’s a struggle.
Last year, I had to check myself into the psychiatric ward.
Age 24, $7,000 in medical debt
Last year, I had to check myself into the psychiatric ward at the hospital that is covered by my insurance — twice. Each of those times, after insurance, was about $2,700. Then, following an unexpected side effect of one of the medications I tried, I passed out in public and was taken to hospital by ambulance. Another $1,000 for the ambulance.
Not even a month later, I was told I have the very early stages of cervical cancer and herpes. Another $800 to treat for that.
I started seeing a new psychologist who may have taken my insurance, but the doctor who was overseeing my psychologist wasn’t. That’s another $500 per session.
I slowly started paying this off. Then I got pregnant. I was still sitting at about $4,000 when we find out. And then I get diagnosed with severe hyperemesis and ovarian cysts, making it impossible for me to work. I have to get sonograms about once a month to monitor my ovaries, and one sonogram is a little less than $1,000.
My boyfriend and I have roommates and have been wanting to move out since September. That’s not looking too good, because of my medical debt. And it’s only going to get worse once the baby is born.
I still haven’t resolved the pain I’m having, but I quit going to the doctor because I can’t pay the bills I already have.
$5,200 in medical debt
I had gallbladder surgery last year, and I still owe $3,200 from my coinsurance (20% of the cost of surgery). I’ve been making payments. But recently I had complications from the surgery, and I’ve racked up another $2,000 in debt from an endoscopy and MRI, because my insurance is terrible and I have a $5,000 deductible. I still haven’t resolved the pain I’m having, but I quit going to the doctor because I can’t pay the bills I already have. The last test my doctor prescribed that might diagnose the problem was rejected by my insurance anyway, and it would have been $20,000. So now I just deal with it.
I ended up going from zero debt to $13,000 within a year
Age 27, $13,000 in medical debt
In October of 2017 I found out I had a missed miscarriage at 10 weeks. I ended up with a $3,500 bill as part of my deductible. In February 2018 I became pregnant again. During my five-month ultrasound, the doctor told me that I needed a detailed echo scan as some abnormalities were detected in my son’s heart. I was billed $1,500 for the detailed ultrasound as part of my copay. After my delivery I got a $5,000 bill for my deductible, and on top that, the little one needed light therapy for jaundice. We were also billed $3,000 as his deductible. I ended up going from zero debt to $13,000 within a year
There is just no digging out as a young person with autoimmune disorders.
Age 29, more than $10,000 in medical debt
At 23 years old I started having major pain issues. Four years and countless tests and doctors later, and it turns out I have interstitial cystitis that also effects my kidneys and stomach. One of my $2,000 MRI scan bills spiraled all the way to me being served to appear in court. I had to give up my apartment and move back in with my parents this summer. I was able to pay off a large amount of that debt, but now I need an upper GI scan and a colonoscopy that will cost me $2,000. I follow all treatment that I can afford — the craziest was a $400 physical therapy consultation recently. I have insurance through my employer, and stay in-network for all doctors and procedures, but because much of my treatment is not proven by FDA to work for my condition, most things are “not covered” and do not count toward my deductible or max out-of-pocket. Sad that so many young people in the country have had to upend their lives because of procedures and conditions that are out of their control. For the rest of my life, I will be in medical debt. There is just no digging out as a young person with autoimmune disorders.
I struggle living paycheck to paycheck because I pay over $500 a month in medical and credit bills.
I had my daughter this year at the cost of $5,500. My insurance pays nothing until that $3,500 deductible is met; then another $2,000 was my 25% [coinsurance]. Then at 2 weeks old she came down with pneumonia and was in the hospital for five days, which was another $3,000. Then my gallbladder had to be removed, which met my personal $6,500 out of pocket. These are just the big bills; we owe smaller amounts to different doctors and labs because everything is billed separately. My total is over $11,000 for the year and doesn’t include the $8,000 I paid three years ago when my son was born premature and I had my own complications. I put several things on credit for places that wouldn’t wait until I returned from unpaid maternity leave to take payments. I have $2,000 in credit card debt. I love my children and am so thankful for the care they received because I could have lost both of them early in their little lives. I struggle living paycheck to paycheck because I pay over $500 a month in medical and credit bills.
When you live with a disease with no cure, the debt just continues to pile up.
Age 29, $2,000 in medical debt
I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2015. Since then, with hospital visits and multiple specialist appointments, I got up to over $7,000 in medical debt in just three years. I thankfully am now down to under $2,000. I have good insurance and take as many precautionary steps as possible, but when you live with a disease with no cure the debt just continues to pile up.
My medical debt has prevented me from buying a house, as it impacts my credit score and my ability to save significant funds for a down payment. I turn down vacations, buying myself a new computer, and going to a good hair stylist to keep my budget tight and work down my medical debt.
It’s a lot to have hanging over your head when you want to start a life and buy a house.
Age 25, $5,000 in medical debt
I’ve had a lot of health issues ever since I was young: type 1 diabetes, spina bifida, and a form of muscular dystrophy. I get UTIs frequently, so I’m always going to the doctor to get antibiotics. The last time, I was supposed to stay a single night in the hospital to get my antibiotic intravenously. While the doctors were so concerned about the infection, they forgot about my diabetes and sent my sugars skyrocketing, which put me in the ICU for three days. My out of pocket is $5,000, which doesn’t seem too much in the grand scheme, but it was due to their mistake. It’s a lot to have hanging over your head when you want to start a life and buy a house.
Nearly nine years later, I am still paying some of the bills.
When I was 20 I tore my ACL while I was on the job skiing. It was not covered by workers’ comp, and I did not have health insurance at the time. It took me twice as long to make it through college because I had to work full time to cover the monthly medical bills. Nearly nine years later, I am still paying some of the bills and now cannot afford to place my baby in child care because of the high monthly medical bills.
I have been off of my meds for almost a month now and am not doing great.
Age 26, $55,000 in medical debt
Two suicide attempts are costly. I also have the unfortunate luck of heart disease, gaps in my spine, fluid around my brain, a tumor in my leg, and being borderline diabetic, on top of [bipolar disorder] with psychotic features, PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder (all diagnosed). I lost my insurance when I turned 26 and can no longer be on my parents’. I used to take seven pills daily for my mental and physical health. I have been off of my meds for almost a month now and am not doing great, but I don’t qualify for any assistance.
I’m blessed to have the support of my parents who try to help…but it’s just spit in the ocean.
The thing they don’t tell you about surviving a suicide attempt is you have to pay the hospital back after: $4,000 for a five-day stay in the hospital. I was released into intensive outpatient therapy. My insurance approved 15 sessions and I was charged $100 a session, but I couldn’t continue after that. My method of suicide was vehicular, so I had to get a new car to go back to work. Thankfully I’m alive and got treatment [and] the help I desperately needed. But even now I’m another $500 in debt to my weekly therapist. We can barely pay our bills in full or on time because of our medical debt and car payments. I’m blessed to have the support of my parents who try to help with groceries so we can save money, but it’s just spit in the ocean. We don’t know how we’re ever going to pay this off.
I had a missed miscarriage.
$5,000 in charges
I had a missed miscarriage at 12 weeks. I found out at a routine ultrasound that there was no longer a heartbeat. Nothing was progressing on its own and my doctor presented me the option to have a D&C procedure to remove the fetal tissue. I was distraught and just wanted it to be over. I was fully insured and was ignorant to think it wouldn’t be a huge bill. My simple, outpatient procedure that had me in the hospital for less than two hours cost over $5,000. We were so unprepared for the cost that it went to collections. We eventually paid it off with help from family.
It’s a lot to deal with when I’m just trying to stay alive.
Age 35, $40,000 in medical debt
This past year I was diagnosed with sarcoma. Diagnosis took months, during which I was categorized as “cancer of unknown primary.” During this time, there were endless tests. Now that I’ve started treatment, the letters from my insurance company have started coming in, informing me that many of the diagnostic tests are not going to be covered, either because they have been deemed unnecessary or experimental. All for finding my cancer type. My insurance is covering treatment now, but it looks like I’m going to be on the hook for close to $40,000 for this year alone. Being out of work due to my illness, and with three young kids to take care of, I’m not sure exactly when and how that is going to get paid. And it’s the last thing on my list of priorities when some days I’m too weak to get out of bed, dealing with some of the harshest chemotherapy currently available. It’s a lot to deal with when I’m just trying to stay alive.
This first set of doctors and specialists we saw lied right to my face about being in-network.
Age 23, $30,000 in medical charges
Three years ago my dog accidentally bit my husband. I took my husband to urgent care to get antibiotics and the paper-cut-sized wound cleaned out. Within a week my husband’s finger swelled up to the size of a sausage; he had something called osteomyelitis (a bone infection). We had to see an infectious disease specialist, a hand surgeon, a physical therapist, get an in-home health nurse, and also have IV medications delivered to our door. This first set of doctors and specialists we saw lied right to my face about being in-network. The entire hospital system we went to first was out-of-network. In the week I was lied to we racked up $30,000 in medical charges that I’m still fighting insurance over, and still to this day paying off. We’ve had to put off having children because of this incident.
I’m underwater with these bills and can’t afford to pay off my credit card.
I got an upper endoscopy to look for ulcers that came back negative. That procedure alone cost me over $1,500, which went to a collection agency. A year later I had an ultrasound, a cholecystectomy, and a colonoscopy that bumped my total to around $5,000. I have great insurance, but it only pays 80% of procedures, and the procedures are hella expensive to begin with. The biggest surprise was for surgery, when I got billed three separate times: for the surgeon, for the hospital, and for the anesthesiologist. The bills literally keep rolling in. I’m on payment plans for everything but still paying well over $150 per month. Lately I have felt like I’m underwater with these bills and can’t afford to pay off my credit card. I also have around $50,000 in student loans that will start getting paid off next year. Thinking about how I’m going to get through it all after these unexpected medical expenses is really stressful.
I had to take out of my retirement to pay off the dental.
I ended up at the dentist with a dental problem that turned into a bridge, a ton of crowns, and a lot of issues. That ended up being $6,000. Then a few months later I ended up having issues with my gallbladder removal from a few months earlier. So in total, WITH INSURANCE — medical and dental — I ended up with around $8,000 to $9,000 of medical and dental bills. I had to take out of my retirement to pay off the dental.
Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.
Illustrations by Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News; Getty Images
This story is part of a series about debts of all kinds.
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