Thanks to many years of thorough research and very little paying attention to price, I’ve always managed to avoid medical debt. However, last year, I was badly burned. As I was leaving the ER at a New York City hospital, I remember bumping into an emergency nurse and being asked if I had been “too old to sue.” I responded, “I never thought I’d be at the ER, anyway.” She suggested that I go straight to my insurance provider, rather than choosing to pay the bill myself. “Whatever I owe, they will cover,” she assured me.
And that’s what I did. It took me a while, but I learned the rules for patient forbearance from three shady characters and later met with lawyers. To date, I have racked up nearly $145,000 in debt — about one third of my take-home pay. I’m in court with two major medical institutions in New York, which threatens to put my credit rating at risk. I’m so far in debt, my bank account would be canceled — even with a $1 million balance — if I were to apply. I’m being pushed toward bankruptcy by the institutions I spoke with.
The past nine months have been tiring, and in the dark. There are numerous dates that concern me. The first is the day my pay check lands. The second is the day my loan stops accumulating interest. And the third is the day the bank I have a loan through, a regional one, will actually deliver on the loan that they promised to process.
I feel increasingly helpless, as I battle a system that feels out of my control. I don’t need this much trouble, but I can’t seem to do anything about it. In fact, the system doesn’t seem to respect my agency.
My oldest son, 19, has been shopping medical debt online and getting nowhere. As a direct result of my son’s frustration, I’ve contacted him repeatedly. He said he could cover up to $30,000 of the bill, but it wasn’t enough to erase everything, and it wasn’t clear if that would cover the remainder. He has at least saved around $2,500. Most of it from colleges and grants.
In total, my family may owe roughly $180,000. In response to my pleading, my ex-husband, who wasn’t aware of the situation, offered to pay off $75,000, so that we could buy us some time. He doesn’t think that I should have been put through all of this, and knows that both institutions have some responsibility, but because he says he’s simply giving me all of his disposable income, it doesn’t seem to matter.
“You don’t deserve that,” I say. “You were at the very least a victim of the system.”
“Are you implying that I broke any rules?” He replies, “You sent me all these emails and stories about injuries and illnesses and it was only then that I realized I had a medical debt. It’s not like you’re managing a full-time job with this.”
“Your boyfriend didn’t come with a checkbook,” I reply. “You signed off on a $35,000 payment based on an insurance letter that you received when you were hospitalized. I was notified, and everything was recorded and documented. I don’t know why you think this is all me playing games.”
My ex-husband wonders what anyone cares about his financial state because he never had his usual social circle, including a lot of former students, friends and close relatives. He hasn’t been back to their apartments and they are still mad at him for not spending more time with them. He hasn’t been to most of their restaurants, only showing up for his favorite haunts, a few of which are around the block from his housing development. He is now thinking about not going to his medical schools reunion this June — as an act of solidarity.
“I’m sick of this shit,” he replies. “You’re telling me you’re doing enough for me? I am getting death threats.”
When I want to leave his apartment, I have to ring the bell and wait for him to get dressed, after which I have to pass through a lengthy series of steps. “He’s a weak, useless symbol of this class system and it makes me sick,” he writes. “I don’t want to contribute to it anymore. You’