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Medical debt forcing Tennesseans into bankruptcy

Posted at 3:24 PM, May 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-06 13:09:16-04

LEWISBURG, Tenn. (WTVF) — Cynthia Jones opens her fridge to reveal the sobering reality thousands of Tennesseans are facing right now. A few pieces of cheese and slices of bologna are the only things on the shelves. She can't afford food for dinner tonight because she's buried under a mountain of medical debt.

This 54-year-old woman once had a job at Cosmolab in Lewisburg, Tennessee. When the company relocated to Murfreesboro it left her out of work. Eventually an injury forced her onto disability, it's her only source of income. Right now she is living off of $1,276 a month which might sounds like a fair amount of money until you consider the fact that medical debt has forced Cynthia Jone into bankruptcy.

"It's terrible, they just take all of your money out of the bank," she says referring to the $600 that automatically gets withdrawn from her bank account at the start of each month. A result of the bankruptcy she declared last year.

There's not safety net when she gets sick now. Cynthia Jones says she often just doesn't buy medicine she needs because she can't take on any more debt.

"I live off peanut butter crackers, it's just hard," she added.

Cynthia is one of an estimated 600,000 Americans forced to declare bankruptcy last year because of medical debt. Like Cynthia, a majority of residents across the United States and Tennessee say they couldn't afford a medical bill as low as $400 if it were to arrive in the mail. Only compounding the problem is a skewed debt system that is often working against patients and consumers.

In the case of Cynthia Jones, her medical debt has been bought and sold countless times by debt collectors. It's essentially bought and sold to that the companies can try to make a profit, all the while making the debt worth pennies even though Cynthia Jones owes upward of $30,000 in medical bills.

"These companies shouldn't be able to do that. But they do," she added.

If you'd like to donate to "Medical Debt Rescue," click here. Every $10 helps us eliminate $1,000 in medical debt for residents across Middle Tennessee.