An Unforeseen Consequence of a Sluggish Economy

Our nation’s economy has been slowing for a long while. Economists agree that America is firmly ensconced in a period of recession that could last for months or even years to come. Plant closures, layoffs, corporate downsizing, salary cuts, loss of benefits — these are all expected and “normal” consequences of a sluggish economy. Another consequence, logically correlated to significant losses of income, is an increase in bankruptcy filings.

What most people would not realize, however, is that job loss is not the underlying cause of the majority of our nation’s bankruptcy filings. According to a recent study underwritten by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (the results of which will be published in the August 2009 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association), medical expenses are the underlying cause of more than 60 percent of all personal bankruptcy filings. The unfortunate truth is that most people are just a single prolonged illness or unexpected injury away from bankruptcy.

The Real Cost of Medical Care

Health care costs have been skyrocketing for years. This is a fact of life for anyone struggling with a chronic illness or the strain of recovering from a car accident, medical malpractice or the birth injury of a child. Even for individuals and families with health insurance coverage, a serious illness or injury results in an average of nearly $18,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses (like copayments, prescription medications, deductibles and uncovered services). This amount leaps to nearly $27,000 for those without insurance.

Unfortunately, the economy is affecting companies across all industries, including insurance companies responsible for making payments for medical expenses. When insurers are overly-protective of their bottom line, they may act in bad faith when evaluating claims. They may deny claims altogether, refuse coverage for necessary medical testing or treatments (offering to cover less-expensive and less-effective procedures instead) or encouraging patients to delay needed treatment.

Injury victims are stuck in an impossible position. They can choose to obtain the medical care necessary to heal and let daily expenses such as utilities and credit card payments pile up, or they can choose to forego treatment and make other necessary payments, while resigning themselves to a lifetime of chronic pain or disability.

Even doctors, particularly those in smaller practices, are suffering from the unfair practices of insurance companies. Not only are insurance companies slow to authorize patients to seek treatment, they are delaying payment or reimbursement to the physicians themselves when medical care has been provided.

The economic stress on both sides of the personal injury spectrum can have a huge impact on an injured person’s ability to successfully pursue a lawsuit. When insurers are challenged with the possibility of a personal injury suit, they will aggressively fight to protect the bottom line. If they are unwilling to pay for even the most necessary medical treatment, they will fight tooth and nail to avoid paying additional damages like lost wages and compensation for pain and suffering. Furthermore, if an individual’s injuries are the result of medical malpractice, that person will be facing both a doctor and the insurance company, both of whom will be willing to fight to the bitter end to prevent recovery of full and fair compensation.

Medical bills caused by the negligence of others should not lead to personal bankruptcy. It is simply unfair. Fortunately, in such situations an attorney can help protect the rights and interests of an injured person.

A knowledgeable lawyer can provide answers to your questions, and help you choose the most effective course of action when dealing with insurance companies. There are often many confusing options which may be available to you. Effective legal representation can also help motivate insurance companies that might otherwise be sluggish in responding to legitimate claims. Following any accident caused by the negligence of someone else, speak with an attorney to discuss the potential legal remedies.

Originally posted: LANE & LANE LLC