Act Now for a Healthy Oregon’s Analysis Confirms Link Between Medical Debt and Personal Bankruptcies in Lane County, Oregon

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Mirroring national trends, study finds that 72 percent of personal bankruptcy filers owe money for a medical-related debt, even after the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of healthcare coverage

Empty hospital bed
"This study confirms that there is a real and troubling connection between the high cost of medical care and personal bankruptcy."

Act Now for a Healthy Oregon today released an issue brief analyzing 2014 personal bankruptcy filings in Lane County, Oregon. The report found that 72% of bankruptcy filers owed money for medical-related debt, with a majority of the medical debt owed to an Oregon hospital system. The total medical debt in personal bankruptcy filings added up to $5.6 million for 2014.

“Even with expanded healthcare coverage through the Affordable Care Act, we still often hear from people in Oregon and Washington that rising hospital costs are pushing already struggling families over the edge, but until now we have lacked clear data about local impacts,” said Meg Niemi, President of SEIU Local 49. “This study confirms that there is a real and troubling connection between the high cost of medical care and personal bankruptcy in our local communities.”

The ten largest creditors in Lane County—ranked by sum of liabilities and excluding collection companies—are:

1. PeaceHealth Sacred Medical Center - $1,196,584
2. McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center - $881,847
3. PeaceHealth - $788,949
4. PeaceHealth Medical Group - $221,295
5. Oregon Medical Group - $148,143
6. Slocum Center for Orthopedics - $131,526
7. Radiology Associates - $78,742
8. Eugene Emergency Physicians - $74,928
9. Northwest Anesthesia Physicians - $74,657
10. Cottage Grove Community Hospital - $63,107

The hospital system holding the largest amount of debt in Lane County is non-profit PeaceHealth, which holds a total of 39% of the medical debt in the county, or a total of $2,344,863.

The study also found that more than 40 percent of those who filed for bankruptcy and had medical debt owed over $5,000 in medical expenses.

“With non-profit hospitals receiving significant tax breaks as ‘charitable’ organizations and simultaneously sending people to collections, it’s time to take a closer look at a broken system and strive toward a community where we all have access to affordable, quality care,” said Niemi.

Methodology:

The focus of the issue brief was narrowed to people who filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcies. In Lane County, Oregon Chapter 7 bankruptcies represented over 80% of the non-business bankruptcies filed in the twelve-month period ending March 31, 2015. This report examines cases filed from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014 (all available online at http://www.orb.uscourts.gov). Eleven cases were excluded from this analysis where no creditor list was filed or the case was a duplicate filing. For each case filed, the total liabilities and all debts categorized as medical debt were recorded.

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SEIU’s Act Now for a Healthy Oregon campaign is working to achieve the goal of keeping our communities healthy by achieving the Triple Aim: improving quality, enhancing access, and increasing affordability of care. SEIU is the largest healthcare union in the country with 2.1 million health care workers. In Oregon and SW Washington, SEIU represents 15,000 health care providers across the continuum of care and is the second largest purchaser of healthcare in the state.

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Felisa Hagins
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