Bankruptcy and Medical Debts: Healthcare Expenses, Discharge Rules

"Explore the intersection of bankruptcy law and medical debt, understanding discharge rules, consumer protections, and how Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies can help manage overwhelming healthcare expenses."


Medical debt is a significant issue for many Americans, often leading to financial distress and bankruptcy. Understanding the intersection of bankruptcy law and medical debt is crucial for individuals facing overwhelming healthcare expenses. This guide provides a comprehensive overview of how medical debts are treated in bankruptcy, the rules for discharge, and the protections available to consumers.

Understanding Medical Debt

What is Medical Debt?

Medical debt arises from expenses incurred for healthcare services, including hospital stays, surgeries, medications, and other treatments. Unlike other types of debt, medical debt is often unexpected and can accumulate quickly, leading to financial hardship.

Statistics on Medical Debt

According to a study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), medical debt is the most common type of debt reported on credit reports. As of 2021, approximately 20% of U.S. households had medical debt.

Impact of Medical Debt

Medical debt can have severe consequences, including damaged credit scores, legal actions, and wage garnishments. It can also lead to significant stress and anxiety, affecting overall well-being.

Bankruptcy Basics

Types of Bankruptcy

There are several types of bankruptcy, but the most relevant for individuals with medical debt are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Chapter 7 bankruptcy, also known as liquidation bankruptcy, involves the sale of a debtor's non-exempt assets to pay off creditors. It is designed for individuals with limited income who cannot repay their debts. Most unsecured debts, including medical bills, can be discharged under Chapter 7.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Basics - United States Courts

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Chapter 13 bankruptcy, also known as reorganization bankruptcy, allows individuals to create a repayment plan to pay off their debts over three to five years. This type of bankruptcy is suitable for individuals with a regular income who can afford to repay a portion of their debts.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Basics - United States Courts

Eligibility for Bankruptcy

Eligibility for bankruptcy depends on various factors, including income, debt levels, and the type of bankruptcy being filed. The means test is used to determine eligibility for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, while Chapter 13 requires a regular income to support the repayment plan.

Medical Debt in Bankruptcy

Discharge of Medical Debt

Medical debt is considered unsecured debt, meaning it is not backed by collateral. In bankruptcy, unsecured debts can be discharged, relieving the debtor of the obligation to pay them.

Chapter 7 Discharge

In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, medical debts are typically discharged along with other unsecured debts. This means that once the bankruptcy process is complete, the debtor is no longer legally required to pay the medical bills.

Chapter 13 Discharge

In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, medical debts are included in the repayment plan. At the end of the repayment period, any remaining medical debt may be discharged, provided the debtor has complied with the terms of the plan.

Medical Bankruptcy Fairness Act

The Medical Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2021 aims to provide additional protections for individuals facing bankruptcy due to medical debt. The Act proposes to eliminate the means test for medical debtors, allowing more individuals to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

S.146 - Medical Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2021 -

Protections for Medical Debtors

Fair Patient Billing Act

The Fair Patient Billing Act provides protections for patients against unfair billing practices. It requires healthcare providers to offer clear and accurate billing information and prohibits certain aggressive collection practices.

210 ILCS 88/ Fair Patient Billing Act - Illinois General Assembly

No Surprises Act

The No Surprises Act protects consumers from unexpected medical bills, particularly for out-of-network services. It ensures that patients are not charged more than the in-network rate for emergency services and certain non-emergency services.

No Surprises Act - Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Filing for Bankruptcy Due to Medical Debt

Steps to File for Bankruptcy

  1. Credit Counseling: Before filing for bankruptcy, individuals must complete a credit counseling course from an approved agency.
  2. Filing the Petition: The bankruptcy process begins with filing a petition with the bankruptcy court. This includes providing detailed information about debts, assets, income, and expenses.
  3. Automatic Stay: Once the petition is filed, an automatic stay goes into effect, halting all collection actions, including lawsuits and wage garnishments.
  4. Meeting of Creditors: The debtor must attend a meeting of creditors, where they will be questioned about their financial situation.
  5. Discharge: If the bankruptcy is approved, the court will issue a discharge order, relieving the debtor of the obligation to pay certain debts.

Required Documentation

When filing for bankruptcy, individuals must provide various documents, including:

  • A list of all creditors and the amounts owed
  • A detailed list of assets and liabilities
  • Income and expense statements
  • Recent tax returns

Role of the Bankruptcy Trustee

A bankruptcy trustee is appointed to oversee the bankruptcy process. The trustee's responsibilities include reviewing the debtor's petition, conducting the meeting of creditors, and managing the liquidation of assets in Chapter 7 cases.

Post-Bankruptcy Considerations

Impact on Credit Score

Filing for bankruptcy has a significant impact on an individual's credit score. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy remains on the credit report for ten years, while a Chapter 13 bankruptcy stays for seven years. However, many individuals find that their credit score begins to improve shortly after the discharge of debts.

Rebuilding Credit

Rebuilding credit after bankruptcy requires time and effort. Steps to rebuild credit include:

  • Obtaining a secured credit card
  • Making timely payments on all bills
  • Monitoring credit reports for errors
  • Keeping credit utilization low

Legal Protections Post-Bankruptcy

Unfair Billing and Collection Practices

After a bankruptcy discharge, creditors are prohibited from attempting to collect discharged debts. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) enforce these protections.

Unfair Billing and Collection Practices After Bankruptcy Discharges - Federal Register

Section 501(r)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code

Section 501(r)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code requires tax-exempt hospitals to make reasonable efforts to determine whether an individual is eligible for financial assistance before engaging in extraordinary collection actions.

Billing and Collections – Section 501(r)(6) - Internal Revenue Service


Medical debt is a significant burden for many individuals, often leading to bankruptcy. Understanding the rules and protections related to medical debt in bankruptcy is essential for those facing financial hardship due to healthcare expenses. By exploring the options available under Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy, individuals can make informed decisions about managing their medical debt and achieving financial stability.

For more information and resources, visit the following official links:

By understanding your rights and the legal processes involved, you can navigate the challenges of medical debt and bankruptcy more effectively.

About the author
Von Wooding, Esq.

Von Wooding, Esq.

Lawyer and Founder

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