Nearly one in three adults in Tennessee has outstanding medical debt. According to The Tennessean, this figures as the seventh-highest medical debt rate in the country. Unfortunately, as insurance premiums continue to rise and many stand to lose their insurance altogether, the statistics aren't likely to get much better any time soon.
Researchers note that the debt rate stems from the state's unique economy. A large percentage of workers have jobs that pay hourly wages and don't offer insurance. Moreover, Tennessee has higher-than-average rates of heart disease and obesity -- long-term conditions that often lead to exorbitant medical care costs over time.
What can be done?
Individuals who find themselves in debt have options. The state itself offers a few programs to help people reduce their medical bills. Unfortunately, these programs are not well funded, and tend to benefit only small segments of the population (senior citizens, most notably).
Others find that filing for bankruptcy is the fastest and most effective way to discharge medical debt. The stigma surrounding bankruptcy has largely dissipated in recent years, due to ongoing economic uncertainty; more and more people are filing when they find themselves in dire financial straits.
Many are unaware of its advantages. For example, immediately upon filing for bankruptcy, creditors are prohibited from calling or harassing individuals. Likewise, any activities related to wage garnishment, asset repossession, or home foreclosure must cease. Indeed, many find they are able to rid themselves of debt while still keeping their most valued holdings.
The impact of doing nothing
Permitting debts to accrue is a dangerous approach. The effect of debt is often "staggering," The Tennessean notes, making it nearly impossible to obtain a loan or credit card later on. Such setbacks can make it difficult, simply put, to live one's life.
With one-third of our state's residents facing the same problems, one would hope that a large-scale solution is being discussed in the halls of congress. Until then, however, bankruptcy remains a potent means for individuals to discharge their debts on their own.