Another little-mentioned benefit of Obamacare: It has reduced medical bankruptcies

Personal bankruptcy filings fell from more than 1.5 million in 2010 to 770,846 last year. The publication acknowledges that several factors have contributed to the decline, particularly 2005 changes in bankruptcy law that made personal bankruptcy harder and more costly to file and the general improvement in the economy since 2008. But its experts “almost all agreed that expanded health coverage played a major role in the marked, recent decline.”

Black Hawk School financial review finds former principal Kenya Walker, staff didn’t follow rules

A State Journal review of public documents shows Walker filed for a voluntary Chapter 13 personal bankruptcy on Feb. 27 in US Bankruptcy Court in the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago. Court records also show she was evicted from her Downtown Madison apartment in 2015, with the school district ordered by the court in May 2016 to garnish her wages for payment of $8,550 in rent and damages to Park Place Apartments, 212 N. Bassett St.

Updates on state and federal health care reform

The Division of Insurance announced( recently that the deadlines for filing, review, and approval is a little different from previous years. Because of the uncertainty at the federal level around the individual market, the 2018 filings are due June 19. They will be made public July 14, and finalization will come in late summer or early fall.

Nearly lost in all the attention focused on the vote in the US House, was encouraging news reported by Consumer Reports on the positive impact the Affordable Care Act has had on personal bankruptcies. The number of bankruptcies across the country has been cut in half after the law took effect, demonstrating the impact medical expenses have on personal budgets. The Colorado Health Access Survey supports those findings. That report noted that personal bankruptcy filings in Colorado numbered 104,000 in 2013 (before the Affordable Care Act took full effect) and dropped to 45,000 by 2015, when the law was fully adopted.

We continue to work with our representatives at the state and federal level to protect the health coverage of all Coloradans and find solutions to the challenge of increasing access, affordability and choice.

Linda Gann is the senior manager, Western Slope Region, for Connect for Health Colorado.

Harvard President’s Innovation Challenge creates answers to future needs

A new test that helps people confirm that they’ve taken a life-saving HIV drug, a nonprofit that helps people navigate personal bankruptcy, and a venture working to accelerate artificial intelligence were the big winners in Tuesday’s President’s Innovation Challenge awards ceremony at the Harvard Innovation Labs.

President Drew Faust awarded each of the three student ventures, UrSure, Upsolve, and Lightmatter, with $75,000 in prize money to help transform their innovative ideas into real, world-changing ventures.

“Your aspirations are so exciting because they are bold, they are risk-taking, and they are devoted to imagining the world as a better place — fairer, healthier, safer,” said Faust in her introduction. “It is so inspiring to see what you are trying to accomplish, for young children, for people who have found themselves in financial distress, for women who need health care, for a whole range of different problems that we’ve seen addressed in these proposals.

“I look forward to seeing in the future how all of you, winners and those of who aren’t winners today, continue to pursue their goals,” Faust added. “And I look forward to seeing these proposals turn into things I’m reading about in the news or seeing in stores or hearing about around the world.”

The President’s Innovation Challenge is open to any Harvard student from any School. This year, 440 student teams submitted declarations of interest, a record 200 teams entered business plans in the competition, and 15 finalists were selected in March. All 15 finalists gave elevator pitches for their companies at the ceremony.

Harvard Innovation Labs Managing Director Jodi Goldstein said she was proud that all 12Harvard Schools were represented among the applicants, reflecting the spirit of President Faust’s One Harvard initiative. “In fact, half of our finalist teams contain a mix of teammates from different Schools,” she said.

The winners split $310,000 in prizes in three categories: Health or Life Sciences; Social Impact or Cultural Enterprise; and a new Open Track. Three runners-up, which received $25,000 prizes, were Jane Diagnostics, a venture developing molecular diagnostic devices for point-of-care screening of HPV; C16, which uses synthetic biology to create environmentally conscious palm oil; and Aircrew, a maker of advanced air-purification systems.

Based on voting by the audience, an inaugural Crowd Favorite prize of $10,000 was awarded to one other team: Two Rabbits, a venture bringing culturally adapted curricula and teachingto schools at the margins of society.

UrSure’s CEO and founder Giffin Daughtridge, whose venture received The Bertarelli Foundation $75,000 grand prize, said, “This is an absolute game-changer for us.”

“We had enough funding to get through the next couple of months, but this will help us accelerate our timeline,” said Daughtridge, who is about to receive dual degrees in medicine from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Upsolve CEO Rohan Pavuluri, whose team won the Social Impact or Cultural Enterprise grand prize, said, “The beauty of startups is that they are an outlet to make a change in the world. You can choose any problem you want and start working on it.

“We are so happy to win,” he added. “But now we have more work to do.”

The President’s Innovation Challenge underwent some significant changes in its sixth year, merging what previously had been two separate challenges: one in which the prizes were selected by Harvard’s deans in categories such as health and life sciences, cultural entrepreneurship, and sports, and a separate President’s Challenge that invited students to create early stage ventures to solve specific global problems. Additionally, a new Open Track was created this year, allowing for greater diversity of student ventures entering ideas that defy easy categorization.

“This is validation that we have a good idea and that we should keep going forward with our business,” said Open category winner Lightmatter’s Nicholas Harris. “It’s really raised our energy, and we are going to try to raise money this summer to make Lightmatter a real thing. This money is going to help make that happen.”

“By empowering these students as they go through the experience of building a venture, we are unlocking the personal potential that other types of endeavors tend not to,” Goldstein said, “That’s why this competition exists. Because people who otherwise wouldn’t have participated in the entrepreneurial process can build, learn, fail, and grow.

“It’s an important distinction,” she added. “This isn’t just a business plan competition. We aren’t just evaluating the business potential of these teams. It’s about the students and the realization of their potential for impact.”

Bankrupt by cancer

The issue: Cancer patients canface crippling financial hardship, forcing some into bankruptcy. Solutions: All provinces should cover the cost of expensive out-of-hospital cancer drugs; government benefit programs should better respond to cancer patients’ needs.

Monica Pope probably didn’t need to be told the breast cancer that doctors diagnosed in 2014 was aggressive: one day she suddenly saw the tumour pressing up from under her skin.

What followed was the full traumatic panoply of cancer treatment, including three surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation.

But that was not all. Complications from surgery mean Pope, 51, has been unable to work at her technical sales job the past 34 months and now must find a new occupation. Even when her workplace disability finally kicked in after 19 weeks, it paid the single woman $23,000 less than her annual salary.

Add in expenses like drugs and hospital parking, and last year Pope felt forced to take drastic action. In a country that prides itself on looking after the sick, no matter their ability to pay, she declared personal bankruptcy because of cancer.

“People will deal with different stresses, they will have financial stress or problems with health,” says the southern Ontario resident. “When you throw everything together all at once, there comes a point where you say ‘I just can’t do it any more.’ You need to be able to breathe.”

Ending up in bankruptcy because of disease sounds like a quintessentially American problem, and it is undoubtedly more common in the US

Yet interviews with patients, and a growing body of research confirm that having cancer in Canada is not just a life-threatening burden, but often a financial disaster, too.

Prolonged loss of income and cancer-related costs –from drugs to travel expenses –can combine to have a devastatingeffect on patients already in the health struggle of their lives.

About one in six bankruptcies that trustee Hoyes Michalos handles involve health problems, many cancer-related, said co-owner Doug Hoyes.

“It’s a huge issue,” says Gabriel Miller of the Canadian Cancer Society. “For middle-class Canadians and working-class Canadians, a cancer diagnosis is like standing on thin ice, and you only hope you can get back to work and cover your bills before you go under.”

To keep from sinking, some patients drain retirement savings, re-mortgage homes or end up on welfare.

Making the ordeal more challenging is a historic shift to people undergoing cancer drug treatment at home rather than in hospital. For more than half the country, that means patients themselves have to pay the often sky-high price of medications.

Patients and their advocates also complain that federal and provincial income replacement programs are woefully inadequate for people faced with months or years off work because of disease.

The system was designed in a different era, when being diagnosed with cancer inevitably meant a drastically curtailed life expectancy; now many patients can live long lives after treatment, often returning to work, notes Miller.

“Those (government) benefits just expire too soon for a lot of people,” he said.

The situation can be even more precarious for self-employed Canadians — people like Lawrence.

He was already feeling the pinch after being off work as a Toronto real estate agent because of a perforated ulcer. Then the 56-year-old was rocked by a stomach-cancer diagnosis in December 2015, leading to surgery that removed 60 per cent of his stomach and his gall bladder. “I was gutted,” he says.

So were his finances. Lawrence thought the disability insurance he had been paying into for decades would fill the gap, but the insurance company refused to honour his policy, pointing to an alleged pre-existing condition.

Earlier this year, he, too, filed for personal bankruptcy.

“It’s something I’m not proud of, something I never thought I’d do. I’ve always been a proud, stand-up individual,” says Lawrence, who asked that his last name not be published. “But I had no alternative … You’re not bringing in income, bills are mounting, (creditors) are not compassionate and understanding. They want their money.”

He and other Canadians do, of course, receive actual oncology treatment, mostly without charge. Beyond that, cancer patients are largely on their own.

Two of every five end up off work for at least six months, according to a 2012 survey by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.Even 60 per cent of their caregivers either have to cut work hours or quit outright, estimated a Lung Cancer Canada survey.

Overall, a 2010 McMaster University study estimated that Canadian patients’ families see incomes plummet 26 per cent – $3 billion in wages lost every year because someone got cancer.

Perhaps the most unfortunate among them are parents of sick children, who must be at the patient’s side throughout treatment, and lose an average of $26,000, according to another McMaster study.

They include Vancouver’s Patrick Sullivan. When his son, Finn, a twin, was diagnosed with a rare muscle cancer in early 2007, the 21-month-old was prescribed a special type of radiation treatment available only in the United States.

The BC government covered the cost of the therapy, but the family had to travel to Boston and stay there for two months on theirown dime. Tragically, the treatment failed to halt Finn’s malignancy, and he died several months later.

Patrick and his wife are both lawyers, and his partners paid him an advance during those months off work. Relatives also raised money to help with expenses.

Yet, at the end of the day, as they mourned the loss of a son, the couple still had to take out a second mortgage on their home to cover the bills.

“The reality is that everything catches up to you,” says Sullivan.

Want to stop personal bankruptcies? Save the Affordable Care Act

Medical debt is one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in the United States. (Its also one of the leading causes of anxiety, headaches, and sudden-onset fervent belief in a single-payer health care system.) Butpersonal bankruptcies have dropped by a stunning 50% since 2010,which Consumer Reports says is due in part to the Affordable Care Act. (Thanks, Obama.)

AsConsumer Reports notes, trips to the emergency room and cancer diagnoses are not something most of us include in our financial planning, so when were hit with those unexpected, involuntary, and large bills, many people are woefully financially unprepared. Personal bankruptcy becomes the only option. The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) meant millions more people had access to (or were required to carry) health insurance, meaning that when tragedy struck, they were prepared. They were able to seek treatment without having to sell their homes or declare bankruptcy. Take a look at theConsumer Reportsarticle, because its an important read, particularly as Congress is once again looking to repeal the law that helped provide health insurance to some20 millionAmericans who may not have otherwise been able to afford it.

[Photo: via Pixabay] ML

Preparing for personal bankruptcy | Biz Brain

Q. I had a failed company and I have three judgments against me personally. Could I get rid of them if I file for bankruptcy?
— Planning

A. It depends.

Assuming that you are otherwise eligible to receive a discharge in a bankruptcy case, a personal guaranty of business debt is, generally speaking, dischargeable, said Ilissa Churgin Hook, a bankruptcy attorney and member of Hook amp; Fatovich in Wayne.

She said most individuals seek relief either under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 of the United States Bankruptcy Code.

Heres how it works.

Generally, in a Chapter 7 case, a debtor seeks a discharge from his or her debts in exchange for exposing his or her assets to an examination by a third party trustee, who acts as a fiduciary for creditors, Hook said.

Hook said one of the trustees obligations is to look for assets that have equity — after taking into account the costs of sale, any liens against the asset, and any relevant bankruptcy exemptions — and can be liquidated to pay creditors.

Chapter 13 is different. This filing is an option available to an individual or a married couple with regular income seeking to reorganize debts and retain assets, Hook said. A Chapter 13 case normally lasts three to five years and involves a payment plan that allows a debtor to repay debts over time.

So your first question is whether you are eligible for a bankruptcy discharge, and which chapter of the bankruptcy code you should use.

For example, Hook said, you may desire to wipe out your debts in a Chapter 7, but if you own an asset that has equity, such as a house, the filing of a Chapter 13 case in which you pay back part or all of your debts — including the judgment debts — in exchange for retaining your interest in your home may be more appropriate for you.

Hook said you may also fail to qualify as a Chapter 7 debtor if your household income is over a certain limit. This varies depending on the county in which you reside.

Further, she said, if there was any fraud involved in obtaining the underlying debt owed to the judgment creditors — for example, if you or your company submitted false financial information in order to obtain a loan — the creditor may object to your attempt to discharge that debt.

And, you may be barred from filing a bankruptcy petition for a certain period of time if you had a prior bankruptcy case, Hook said.

She said assuming that you qualify for a Chapter 7 discharge, you should be able to discharge, or wipe out, your personal liability on the judgment debt.

If the judgment creditor has filed a lien against your home, that lien can be avoided in your bankruptcy case if you file a bankruptcy petition within 90 days of the attachment of the lien, she said.

If however, the judgment lien is already more than 90 days old, a discharge in bankruptcy will relieve you of any personal liability to pay the judgment — meaning that the creditor cannot attempt to collect from you, seize a bank account, or garnish your paycheck — but the lien will survive the bankruptcy and remain a lien against your home even after your bankruptcy case is closed, she said.

You could file a motion in the state court one year after your discharge and request that the lien be removed as of record.

Sounds like its time for you to sit down with an attorney who specializes in bankruptcies to see if any of the options are right for you.

Email your questions to

Karin Price Mueller writes the Bamboozled column for NJ Advance Media and is the founder of Follow NJMoneyHelp on Twitter @NJMoneyHelp. Find NJMoneyHelp on Facebook. Sign up for NJMoneyHelp.coms weekly e-newsletter.

The Legal Minute with Cooley Shrair: tuition clawbacks

CHICOPEE, Mass. (Mass Appeal) – In this Legal Minute with the Law Office of Cooley Shrair in Springfield, Attorney John Davis explained what an individual considering personal bankruptcy should know about tuition claw backs.

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About Cooley Shrair:
Cooley, Shrair PC, founded in 1946 by Judge Sidney M. Cooley and Attorney Edward B. Cooley, is a progressive law firm located in Springfield, MA. Cooley Shrair provides unequaled service to its clients. Our unparalleled response time to our clients’ needs is the foundation of our mission statement.

At Cooley Shrair, family and business have always had a way of blending together. We know the importance of balancing the boardroom and the courtroom with the living room from time to time. We listen carefully to understand our clients’ concerns and work vigorously with them to develop strategies for success. It’s not just business, it’s personal.

We pride ourselves in being the most responsive lawyers in the area, covering virtually every area of practice for individuals and multinational corporations across the United States and Canada. Cooley Shrair is recognized consistently for exceeding client expectations and providing competent, integrated, and cost-effective legal services.

Our attorneys are each distinguished in their respective areas of concentration and are complemented by a professional support staff. Cooley Shrair is a formidable opponent who fiercely advocates on behalf of our clients and we take pride in our commitment to provide unparalleled response and unparalleled solutions.

We’re a family, and to us, that’s very personal business.

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