02 February 2005

Sick, Dying, and Bankrupt

In the US, whenever you get into financial troubles like excessive credit card debt, unforeseen medical bills, or any other money woes, they have a federal statutory law in Title 11 of the US Code that protects them from further financial hemorrhage.

In the Philippines, no such law exists (dear Sassy may correct me if I'm wrong), and financially-troubled Filipinos usually go incurring more debts, seek friends' and relatives' help (who now begin to avoid them like the plague), get death threats, or worst-case-scenario: they either end up robbing banks or become beggars loitering in the streets.

With the rising prices of goods, an 8.0++ percent inflation rate, and the recently proposed value-added tax increases, getting sick and hospitalized will probably be a nightmare you would not want in your future.

A new Harvard study says that medical problems like getting sick contributed to about half of all 2001 bankruptcy filings in the United States, and I think bankruptcy law or not, the same holds true here in the Philippines:

Half of Bankruptcies Due to Medical Bills,
Harvard Study Says

Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Half of U.S. bankruptcy filers say that out-of-pocket medical expenses led to their financial hardship --- and most of the people had health insurance, according to a Harvard University study.

For the study, researchers surveyed 1,771 filers in five states, and as many as 54.5 percent cited medical expenses as a reason for filing. In addition, the study showed about a 30-fold increase in medical expense-related bankruptcies since 1981.

"Cancer was the most expensive diagnosis, with average out-of-pocket expenses of $35,000," said Steffie Woolhandler, a professor at Harvard Medical School and an author of the study. Death caused by any disease totaled $17,283 on average, followed by neurological diseases at $15,560 and mental disorders at $15,478. Insurance premium payments were not included in out-of-pocket expenses.

Interviews revealed that in the two years prior to their filing in 2001, 40.3 percent of the debtors had lost telephone service, 19.4 percent went without food, more than half didn't see doctors and dentists when needed and 43 percent didn't fill prescriptions.


The full text of the study is scheduled to appear today on the website of the academic journal Health Affairs and to my knowledge, the first study ever to document the obvious connection between bankruptcy and incurred medical costs.

It is really hard to get sick and be hospitalized these days. Getting hospitalized means seeing your hospital bill grow by leaps and bounds in a matter of days. Talking with some retirees, I found out that most of what they saved for years of hard work quickly went down the drain after paying for their hospital and medical expenses.

As for medical insurance, they sure help, but still you would also need the help of a deep pocket to sustain all your health needs if, and when, the time comes that you get sick. When you think about it, even saving everyday may not be enough. It will surely help, but in the end, it won't be enough to cover for everything.

Don't you think it will be wise if somebody (government or private entity) thought of providing us with some fall-back plan that will address the financial concerns of our hospitalization in the future?

Otherwise, it's back to sa-panahon-ngayon-bawal-magkasakit mode or in English, in-times-like-these-getting-sick-is-not-permitted-anymore.

The word 'bankrupt' originally came from two Italian words banca rotta, which translates to broken bench, because in the old days, the bench also stood for the money trader's table or much like the banks we have today, and if there's no money, the term used is banca rotta.

Today, nothing much has changed. When you get sick, everything gets broken, including all your savings and you and your family's chance of a brighter future.

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