A 2009 study found that medical debt is a factor in 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies. Medical debt is not only common in personal bankruptcy cases; it is one of the easiest types of debts to discharge. Medical debt is not secured by property, nor is it considered a priority debt.
It’s no wonder that many debtors worry whether they can receive medical treatment after bankruptcy. Fortunately, a federal law called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act requires hospitals and ambulance services to provide emergency healthcare to a person regardless of ability to pay. This federal law requires appropriate medical screening, necessary stabilization, and transfer to an appropriate facility for treatment of an emergency condition. In broad general terms, if you have an emergency medical condition, a hospital ER must treat you.
If you do not have an emergency medical condition, the hospital or doctor may refuse treatment to a bankruptcy debtor. It is unusual for a hospital to deny service after bankruptcy unless the patient demonstrates an inability to pay the new bill. If you have insurance or other form of guaranteed payment, the hospital will likely treat you.
On the other hand, individual physicians and private clinics are more likely to deny non-emergency services if you have discharged their bill. Many bankruptcy debtors want to continue a relationship with their personal doctor, and make arrangements to pay their healthcare professional after the bankruptcy has been filed. While the bankruptcy law requires the debtor to list every creditor, there is no prohibition against paying a debt after the bankruptcy – even if the debt is discharged by the bankruptcy case. Paying the debt does not renew or create a new obligation and the doctor may not take action to collect a discharged debt (i.e. writing or calling to encourage payment).
If you need to include medical bills in your bankruptcy, but worry about receiving future medical care, consult with your bankruptcy attorney. In most cases there is no interruption in medical care or treatment. Know your legal rights and be informed of how your bankruptcy will affect your ability to receive medical care.