debt

Medical costs pile up for terminally ill

Steve BucciDear Debt Adviser,
I'm terminally ill, and I'm worried my husband will run out of money paying for my medical bills. We've already used our savings to pay for various treatments over many years, and all that's left is an annual $21,000 payment from Social Security. Will my husband be legally required to pay my hospital and doctor bills? Can they garnish his Social Security check? Will Obamacare help? We are paying everything out of pocket. Insurance companies say they can't cover me because of my pre-existing medical condition. Thank you for your consideration and reply.
-- Raven

Dear Raven,
I am so sorry to hear about your diagnosis and your health insurance situation. First, let me put your mind at rest: Your husband's Social Security benefits are exempt from garnishment in this case. Those benefits are yours unless you owe money to the government, or you owe child or spousal support.

I want you to contact the Patient Advocate Foundation to learn what options are available to you now to help cover the costs of your treatment and potential hospice care. You should be able to learn from someone at this organization what options are available for help with medical costs and how to protect your husband's finances. This foundation is highly rated by Charity Navigator and GuideStar and is listed under the federal government's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website. Additionally, there may be other patient advocacy organizations available if you check online.

You mentioned you were unable to get insurance because of a pre-existing condition. But that may not be the case anymore. With few exceptions, the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) provides that persons with a pre-existing condition cannot be turned down for health insurance. Beginning in October, you should be able to enroll for health insurance coverage despite your medical condition. The policy would start in January 2014, and you shouldn't be penalized with a higher premium. In addition, you would likely qualify for assistance with your premium based on your income level.

You say you are not eligible for Medicare due to your age. That may be so, but if you have worked and paid into the Social Security system, you may qualify for Supplemental Security Income. Check with your local Social Security Administration office to learn if you are eligible.

I can only imagine how difficult it is for you, but try not to spend the time you have left worrying about your finances. As long as your husband doesn't sign any documents offering to guarantee payment of your bills, he shouldn't be held responsible for them. Check with the people I have recommended, and then you can take some comfort in knowing your medical bills will be limited.

Good luck!

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