Double shifts, credit card loans, and family loans when twins are born early

We had a plan that was not going to be homeless.

Allison Ward

Allison Ward43, Chicago

Approximate medical loan: 80,000

Medical problems: Delivery

What happened: After the birth of her sons 10 years ago, there was a time when Allison Ward wondered if she and her family would lose their home.

Some days, he would tick through a list of friends and family, considering who could take them inside. “We had a plan that we would never be homeless,” Ward recalls.

Ward is a nurse practitioner who works in a neonatal intensive care unit in Chicago. Her husband, Marcus, runs a small nonprofit.

But when the couple’s sons, Milo and Theo, were born 10 weeks ago, their lives were ruined financially.

The twins were diagnosed with cerebral palsy. One needs multiple surgeries to correct a respiratory disorder. The children spent more than three months in NICU.

Ward and her husband pushed the boys to get the care they needed, year after year with physical and occupational therapy. The bill, which peaked at about $ 80,000, overwhelmed them.

At first it was mostly from hospital care. Their health plan then denies the boys thousands of dollars in demand for therapy, deeming some unnecessary.

Desperate, Ward and her husband loaded up credit cards, borrowed from relatives, and delayed repaying student loans. They have returned to the Midwest from Dallas to stay close to families who can help them.

In Chicago, Ward took extra nursing shifts, working day and night several times a week. Her husband, who was finishing his postgraduate degree, was watching the kids.

“I wanted to be a mother,” she said. “But we have to have money.”

What’s broken: Ward and her husband had health insurance through her employer in Texas.

But this is often not enough to protect patients from a major medical event. According to the KFF survey, most Americans who had medical debt had coverage.

Even with health insurance, childbirth can be very expensive. One in eight Americans who have a health care debt said it was at least partly due to pregnancy and childbirth.

Ward and her husband are among the millions of Americans who end up with medical loans because their health plans have not paid for anything they believe will be covered. This type of insurance problem is the most common form of billing problem cited by Americans, including debt.

What’s left: Since returning to the Midwest, Ward and her husband have been slowly repaying their debts.

They bought a small home in Chicago in 2016. And Milo and Theo have been able to stay at the grade level in school.

Although cerebral palsy can be severely disabling, boys can run, ride bikes, and do rock climbing, all of which Ward credits to many therapists who have worked with them.

Ten years later, though, families are still paying off about $ 10,000 in medical loans on their credit cards.

Ward says that sometimes at work he looks sadly at new parents at NICU, thinking about the financial pressure they face. “They have no idea,” he said.

About this project

“Diagnosis: Debt” is a reporting partnership between KHN and NPR that explores the scale, impact, and causes of medical debt in the United States.

The series draws on the “KFF Health Care Date Survey”, a poll designed and analyzed by KFF public opinion researchers in collaboration with KHN journalists and editors. The survey was conducted online and by telephone in English and Spanish from February 25 to March 20, 2022, in a nationally representative sample of 2,375 U.S. adults, including 1,292 adults with current healthcare loans and 382 adults with healthcare loans. The last five years. The margin of sample error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for full sample and 3 percentage points for those who have current debt. For results based on subgroups, the margin of sample error may be higher.

Additional research was conducted by the Urban Institute, which analyzes data from the Credit Bureau and other populations on poverty, race, and health status to find out where medical debt is concentrated in the United States and what factors are involved with high debt levels.

The JPMorgan Chase Institute analyzed records from a sample of Chase credit card holders to see how the balance of customers could be affected by major medical expenses.

KHN and NPR reporters also conducted hundreds of interviews with patients across the country; Talks with physicians, healthcare industry leaders, consumer lawyers, debt lawyers and researchers; And review studies and survey scores about medical loans.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that creates in-depth journalism about health issues. KHN is one of the three major operating programs of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), including policy analysis and polling. KFF is a non-profit organization that provides health information to the nation.

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