medical-billI recently received a question from a NY Injury Law Blog reader about a vital concern for many Americans: What are the consequences of ENORMOUS medical bills for families or individuals unable to afford health insurance?

I believe the question, and my reply, will resonate with many readers – especially during this time of high unemployment in New York and Pennsylvania. With the e-mail writer’s permission, I have put together this post in the hope that it will inform readers with the same worries.

Hi Jim,

I was reading your article online and was wondering if you might be able to point me in the right direction here, or advise on what kind of lawyer I need to find (there are so many different kinds!) …

If a couple has no health insurance and they get into a catastrophic health issue, like a major disease or accident, what happens financially? Would they be forced to liquidate their house and/or retirement accounts, and other savings?

Could someone’s entire wealth be wiped out? Or would there be reasonable payment plans or other recourse?

Who could “force” them to liquidate anyway? If they owed the doctors and hospitals six figures, could they just pay what they can each month? Can the hospital/doctors “force” them to liquidate their life savings? Does that happen often?



Dear Rick:

You ask a truly great question. To answer your question bluntly: Yes, uninsured folks can be financially devastated by the staggering costs of medical treatments.

The bottom line is that my law partner, who is a bankruptcy lawyer, tells me that approximately 75% of all the bankruptcy cases he handles are because of HUGE uninsured medical expenses.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, these folks filing for bankruptcy are good, hard-working folks who merely had the misfortune of getting sick.

Medical providers, just like any other creditor, can pursue a judgment against you for their unpaid bills and once they get that judgment they can collect by all the typical collection methods – wage garnishment, liens against your home, etc.

I am sorry to be the bearer of such bad news, but your question brings in to sharp focus just how important it is for people to have health insurance.



Even though our exchange may not have offered the answer my reader hoped for, I was glad to share the response, and I hope it gives him something to work with.

I feel that it is important to share what I have gleaned from 20-plus years as a personal injury and medical malpractice attorney in New York and Pennsylvania, so I encourage readers of this blog to e-mail me with questions. I may not always be able offer good news, but forewarned is forearmed.

Thanks for reading,

James B. Reed, Esq.
Personal Injury & Malpractice Attorney
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William St., Elmira, NY 14902
Tel. (607) 733-8866 Fax. (607) 732-6062
Toll Free 1-800-943-3529