11 January 2008

Medical bankruptcies in Britain

I saw something yesterday that a Brit had written warning that there were medically caused bankruptcies in Britain too, so not to think that single-payer would be the end of the approximately 2 million medically caused bankruptcies a year that occur in the U.S.

After a bit of poking around, I understand his point. When the British can't work because of an illness, they may get into financial troubles. They're cared for medically, but their credit card debt for that trip to EuroDisney and the fancy clothes isn't covered.

At the Bankruptcy Information Centre, there's the story of a single mom raised in the projects who'd gotten herself a nursing degree and began spending more than she earned. Quite a bit more. Here's the key to her story:
She had started a relationship with a friend she had known for 10 years, but after a year that broke up. That was her trigger.

"Maybe it's being a single parent, a strong Cypriot woman, but we've all got a face, you know what I mean? I was like, 'I'm fine, everything's fine', and then it was like a domino effect. I just crashed, in my abilities as a mum, as a nurse, as a person." In May 2005, she went to her GP and said she needed help. He diagnosed stress and clinical depression, and ordered sick leave.

Staying at home, on statutory sick pay, then, after two months with no income at all and on incapacity benefit, didn't improve things. She felt immensely guilty, a failure in the eyes of her colleagues, whom she would bump into whenever she had an appointment with the mental health services. She drank, three or four bottles of vodka a week. She spent more. "Spending is very, very addictive. It's definitely an adrenaline rush, as well." And then she got a letter from the tax credit agency. Strudwick would be first to admit that she finds applying for benefits an incomprehensible morass, but obviously Revenue & Customs find this, too. Last June, they admitted they had miscalculated child tax credits, overpaying recipients by more than £2bn. They demanded Strudwick repay £4,200 that she didn't have - then, on investigation, revised it up to £9,500. Her debt shot up to nearly £50,000. Unpaid utilities meant that the final bankruptcy statement had her owing £52,000.
That's hardly the kind of bankruptcies that happen here because of trying to pay for a cancer treatment.

No comments: