Medical debt knocked me down the ladder


My family says I have a story for everything.

Like so many Hoosiers, I have a story about medical debt. I have lost several pregnancies but was blessed with adopted children, and I ended up having one natural child survive. She was born very early, weighing just over 1 pound. She was a miracle baby.

I accrued a lot of medical debt because she was required to be in the neonatal intensive care unit for many months. This debt took a toll on me and my family for several decades. The children grew, and along the way, I became a single parent. The bills kept coming. I had to try to buy food, school supplies, clothing for the children, pay my mortgage and keep my utilities paid and up to date. When you have only so much money coming in, it is hard to decide if it is more important to buy food or pay the bills.

Being a foster/adoptive parent, I had access to several community referral agencies. A caseworker would sit down with me to assist me in making goals, but often, I would be on my own trying to figure out how to make them work.

Many times, things are easier said than done. A member of my household would need to go to the doctor or dentist, and there would be another bill on the pile. I would get a job and my benefits would be cut off. Bill collectors demanded payments I couldn’t afford and garnished my wages with no thought of how we would survive.

It left a feeling of hopelessness. It always left me with a feeling of “Why try?” A month would go by and I would have another meeting and be asked how I was doing. The meetings were more of a chore than a help.

Eventually, I lost my house and went through both trusteeship and bankruptcy. It left my whole well-being and energy down. It felt like I was trying to make my way back up the ladder, only to fall back down to the bottom. Bankruptcy meant I couldn’t get credit anywhere. I needed a cosigner to buy a car. I had to pay cash I really didn’t have for everything. It was like being punished and repunished all over again — all because I had a baby that needed medical care.

I want people to know that everyone wants to have nice things — nice house to live in and a car to drive — and the large medical bills people are faced with are a real barrier.

I also want the many Hoosiers who have medical debt to know things can get better. I had to work through hard times, but I’m finally at the point where I can purchase things if I need them. I finally have a good credit rating that is getting even better. I’d like to be able to shout it out: People, please don’t despair, don’t give up.

I am very interested in doing my part to make things better, especially for our moms and babies here in Indiana. In fact, through my role at the Grassroots Maternal & Child Health Initiative, I am now part of a project that recently received a CTSI Trailblazer Award to study the effects of medical debt and medical debt relief for pregnant women in our state. Indiana Health Fund, a new nonprofit, will provide debt relief for these mothers.

This is exciting, but I would like to see more change. I want health insurance to cover necessary medical costs. I want to see programs where people can work with someone to come up with affordable payment plans and talk to them about goals and how to make them work. I want families to know they won’t lose their home, like I did, due to a medical debt. Sometimes, we just need someone to be willing to walk with us.

Finally, I just want everyone to be aware of this problem. It affects so many who are just trying to take care of their health and the health of their families. I believe we can all work toward solutions so my daughter, grandchildren and other families won’t have to face the same challenges.

Deborah D. Fisher is passionate about helping others and has been a foster/adoptive mom for more than 30 years. She was able to seek out and earn higher education at 49 years of age, including a bachelor’s degree in social work, a master’s degree in education and just recently, an education specialist degree. She serves as family interview coordinator for the Indiana Maternal Mortality Review Committee and is an active grassroots maternal and child health leader. Her commentary previously appeared on Send comments to [email protected].

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