Most people have noticed that when one thing goes wrong, several other things invariably follow. There’s even a common expression describing the experience: “When it rains, it pours.” Unfortunately, medical debt is no exception. It can easily precipitate a resulting series of unfortunate events, one of them (ironically) being poor health. This is more than perception; it is a documented phenomenon, explored most recently in a 2021 research study from The Sycamore Institute.
Lack of necessary medical care
There are several ways that medical debt can affect your health, and many of them are the same ways that any financial insecurity can affect your health. For example, if you are in debt, you will be less apt to visit a doctor for problems with any chronic conditions – or even new medical conditions- you may suffer from. This can mean that diabetes, asthma, or high blood pressure issues go unchecked. It can also mean that necessary mental health precautions are left unaddressed.
Inexpensive, “empty calorie” foods
Having debts can prevent people from meeting other basic needs as well. This is evident in food buying choices. On average, healthy foods cost three times as much per calorie as unhealthy options. Unfortunately, if you are weighed under by medical debt, it may be easier to buy less expensive foods with empty calories. These foods tend to have high amounts of sugar, saturated fat, and sodium, all of which can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Poor nutrition can adversely affect anyone’s health.
Those with medical debt may also experience difficulties paying for safe housing or adequate utilities, such as heating and air conditioning. It has been documented that financial insecurity is linked to housing located far from green spaces that motivate people to exercise and provide recreational opportunities. One NIH study notes that “access to green spaces has been viewed as a principal key to enhancing health and well-being.” Lack of access to these green spaces can negatively affect your health.
Another way that health behavior can be affected by medical debt is in unhealthy stress-driven behaviors. Many people smoke to relieve stress, but in fact, smoking causes stress-related illnesses. It causes increased blood pressure, elevated heart rates, constricted blood vessels, and a decrease in available oxygen. Even worse, 80% of lung cancers and lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking. Other harmful behaviors triggered by stress include alcohol or drug use, both of which negatively affect health.
How Sawin & Shea, LLC can help
The Sycamore Institute concludes its report by saying that “A growing body of evidence connects medical debt with health outcomes” and reiterating the ”clear link between these factors and poorer health outcomes.” Obviously, medical debt can negatively affect your health.
However, these negative impacts are not inevitable; you do have the option to take steps to either eliminate your medical debt or to make manageable payments towards it by filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Between 40% and 60% of bankruptcies are prompted by medical debt; this is a problem that is all too common. The ramifications of this kind of cycle of debt can be serious for your long-term financial health as well as your short and long-term physical and mental health. Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can discharge (get rid of) medical debts as well as other unsecured debts as long as you have a low enough income to qualify for it. Chapter 13 bankruptcy can also be a road toward discharging your medical debts after you complete a 3-5 year payment plan. You can read about this in more detail in our blog, How Are Medical Bills Treated in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?
At Sawin & Shea, LLC, we have over 75 years of bankruptcy experience helping thousands of people just like you get the fresh start they deserve.