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Upended: How Medical Debt Changed Their Lives

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Some lost their homes. Some emptied their retirement accounts. Some struggled to feed and clothe their families. Medical debt now touches more than 100 million people in America, as the U.S. health care system pushes patients into debt on a mass scale. Debtors are from all esential oil walks of life and all corners of the country. Here are their stories ― how they got into debt, what they’ve given up for it, and how they’re living with the burden.

What Happened: There were times after her sons were born 10 years ago when Allyson Ward wondered whether she and her family would lose their home.

On some days, she would tick through a list of friends and family, considering who could take them in. “We had a plan that we were not going to be homeless,” Ward recalled.

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

But when the couple’s boys, Milo and Theo, were born 10 weeks prematurely, their lives were upended financially.

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This story also ran on NPR. It can be republished for free.

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The twins were diagnosed with cerebral palsy. One required multiple surgeries to fix a breathing disorder. The babies spent more than three months in a NICU.

Ward and her husband scrambled to get the boys the care they needed, including years of physical and occupational therapy. The bills, which topped out at about $80,000, overwhelmed them.

Much of it at first was from hospital care. Then their health plan denied thousands of dollars in claims for the boys’ therapies, deeming some unnecessary.

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