16 News Now Checking Medical Debt in Michiana

South Bend, Indiana (WNDU) – Going to the emergency room or undergoing surgery is a stressful experience, but for many, the cost of that care has an even greater impact. Earlier this month, we told you about the difficulties many Americans face when they are diagnosed with debt. But how common is medical debt in our society?

For a local teacher, what started as a toothache led to a rare diagnosis. Both Kristen and Kent Carlson worked full time, had insurance, and were saving for retirement when Kristen was diagnosed with neurosarcoidosis, gastroparesis, hemiplegic migraine, aphasia, and trigeminal neuralgia—a painful condition that causes seizure-type activity.

“It’s a lot like strokes, which leads me to the emergency room because you never know…that could be the big problem,” Kristen and her husband Kent explain.

But with multiple emergency visits comes multiple joint payments. With the development of her condition, it became impossible to work, which meant losing her income and insurance.

“The only thing I know would really help us is that I would work. And I couldn’t do it. It’s not that I didn’t want to, I wanted so badly, but I couldn’t physically work. And so every bill that came in there was so much guilt that I cause it”, As Christine says.

The cost of caring for Christine became prohibitive, which affected not only their bank accounts, but their quality of life.

“Medical debt can affect your marriage, it can affect, you know, how you’re a parent, and it can affect every aspect of your life,” she says. “You know you look at people who take vacations and you’re like, I want to do that. But instead, I’m trying to take care of hospital bills.”

This makes them face a harsh reality that they cannot bear. But Kent and Kristen aren’t alone…not even close.

Nationally, 13.9% of all Americans have medical debts in groups. Nonprofit researchers at the Urban Institute found that Americans with medical bills in groups typically owe about $774. In Indiana, that amount is slightly higher at $797.

Here in Michigan, Fulton County tops the list with more than 21% of residents who have group medical debts, usually owing about $949. In Pulaski County, more than 19% of the medical debts of group residents, owed typically $1,210.

In Elkhart County, more than 15% have group debts, due to a typical $631. In Marshall and Kosciusko counties, there are about 14% combined medical debt, and the average citizen owes more than $600.

Kristen and Kent live in St. Joseph County, where 14.52% of people have medical debts in groups, usually because of close to $600.

These numbers only include medical debts in groups, not all debts owed to providers.

“It can be very revealing to think that you have thousands and thousands of dollars in debt that you didn’t ask for,” says Kristen.

“We didn’t go ask for a loan, we just asked for help. You know, Medicaid, Kent adds.

When medical debt is sent to collections, it can affect your credit rating, which can increase the cost of home and auto insurance and reduce your ability to get a personal loan to try to pay off the debt, creating a vicious cycle.

Trying to get out of this difficult financial situation can affect the rest of your life.

“To try and prepare ourselves so we can survive, we ended up draining both of our retirement accounts. So there is no retirement.” Kent explains. “At one point, we came very close, in a couple of months, to losing our home and our only car.”

Fortunately, their prayers were answered when the local church paid off its medical debt, providing relief at a time when they needed it most. But more than a decade after Kristen’s diagnosis, the financial hardships stemming from her condition persist, costing $1,600 a month for just her medication.

“I take a lot of medication trying to decide if I skip it, should I go every day to try and make that joint push last a little bit longer, but it’s not really an option,” Krystin says.

“The end result is more Medicare trying to make up for missed medication,” Kent says.

This does not include a promising trial treatment that costs $35,000 per month for six months.

“Having a funeral is literally cheaper than paying for this medicine that I will need for six months,” Kristen explains. “I think realizing that this drug can save your life, you just have to sort of decide, is it worth the medical debt? And that’s hard.”

Kristen and Kent still need help with their expenses. They have a GoFundMe campaign explaining their struggles and allowing the community to donate. You can find it here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/ongoing-medical-expenses-for-krystin-carlson.

As they progress, Krystin and Kent say they were humbled by their experience, and the help they received from friends and family makes them eager to help others.

“I would really like to be the one who can do that…Most people who provide help are people who have needed it at some point, and someone has helped them,” Kent says.

They want those who suffer from the burden of unpaid bills to remember that others are going through the same suffering.

“I know you’re not alone. You’re not alone and finding someone who can listen to you I think makes a world of difference. It doesn’t take the debt away, but at least it makes you feel like you’re sharing the burden with someone who cares,” says Kristen.

While most nonprofits that pay off medical debt to members of the community do so at random, there are other ways you can get help.

The Great National Advocate Organization gives you access to a network of independent patient advocates – they will fight for you when dealing with doctors, medical professionals, and insurance companies. You can look for help on their website, gnanow.org.

Another site you can check is AdvoConnection.com. It works much the same way, and you may qualify for discounted or free patient advocacy guidelines.

You will likely pay an hourly fee to the patient’s attorney. And while prices vary, they can save you several hundred dollars even several thousand in medical bills.

Copyright 2022 WNDU. All rights reserved.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: