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Patient Advocate Foundation
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Home > This Just In > Message from the CEO -- Issue #2

Even one patient burdened by medical debt is too many

Today, I’d like to share Kathleen’s story that she told recently at our Promise of Hope event to highlight the impact of medical debt crisis on patients who turn to PAF for help and to illustrate why finding policy solutions that will protect patients like Kathleen is an important priority for NPAF.   

 Kathleen's her own words --

  "My journey with melanoma cancer actually began in the year 2000.
   I had an excellent job and made close to 6 figures, that in addition to my husband’s
   generous salary and our savings, we would be fine -- or so we thought. It took
   less than six months for our savings to be drained…and I still had not had the surgery
   to remove my melanoma because the local hospital doctors would no longer see me
   unless I paid for my services up front. I finally found a hospital and doctor at
   University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to take my case.
   It was still not enough.  Less than a year later, we were sinking and we were sinking
   fast. Our college funds for our 6 children were drained. Our savings and our 401k
   plans were drained. We were several months behind on our mortgage. We were living day
   to day, paycheck to paycheck. I kept asking myself, what would happen to our home
  and our six children.

   I am here tonight, not for myself, but for the thousands of cancer patients that are
   somewhere, in some bed, maybe not at home, because they have already lost their
   home and they cannot fight for themselves."

Case managers at PAF are busy every day finding help for patients like Kathleen.  In fact, 57.2% of PAF case management patient cases involved medical debt crisis in 2013.  The effects of medical debt can last for years.  Even small amounts of debt can effectively ruin a patient’s credit.   Other patients, tragically, have lost homes to bankruptcy even after attempting to save money by cutting corners and compromising their care.
Based on our experiences at PAF, we support common-sense solutions through NPAF that recognize the unique nature of medical debt and that make it easier for patients to retain their dignity while experiencing a medical crisis.  For example, NPAF worked with leaders to champion legislation with protections for those who declare bankruptcy or experience debt for medical reasons.  NPAF recommends that legislation like the Medical Debt Responsibility Act of 2013 be passed, which would reduce the lasting impact on a patient’s credit report once medical debt is resolved.
We know firsthand the pain and anguish too many patients experience due to medical debt associated with their care and we are committed to finding policy solutions that will provide meaningful relief and protection for those patients who find themselves in a financial crisis. 


Note:  Kathleen currently lives in Ohio with her husband and 6 children.  She continues to undergo treatment associated with her disease.