I live in Oregon. My husband is terminally ill. Some of his bills from 2010 went to a collection agency and they are now billing me. The only income I personally have is Social Security and a small government pension. The only income my husband has is SSI. What can I personally do about being held responsible? The hospital has written off 80% of the bill but there is a sizable outstanding amount. I do not have the ability to pay them anything.
Under Oregon law you are also responsible for your husbands debt. So, unless you were separated from him, you are unfortunately on the hook for these debts.
Have you exhausted financial assistance options from the medical service providers. All hospitals have a process to help low income patients. It sounds like maybe you have already done that, and what is left is what is being collected on now.
I agree with above attorneys; seek out a local debtor/creditor attorney who can give you a free consult to help assess your situation. For example, are there other debts that you have that are concerning you.
Do not worry about social security and the pension; those are exempt and cannot be touched by creditors.
You should consult a bankruptcy attorney or a consumer law attorney to discuss what assets you have that they may be able to levy on should they sue you and receive a judgment. SSI cannot be garnished. A bankruptcy attorney will be able to come up with a plan of attack for you should you foresee future debts going to collections.
I agree with the previous response to your question. You can also send letters to the collection agencies contacting you to let them know about your financial situation. If you want the communications from the collection agencies to stop, you can also send the collection agencies a cease and desist letter.
I'm assuming these medical bills have already been submitted to insurance. But, if they haven't, you can submit the medical bills to your husband's insurance company.
I would see a qualified bankruptcy attorney in the Portland area immediately. Almost any attorney specializing in bankruptcy in the Portland area would offer you a free consultation to make the determination as to whether bankruptcy is a good idea and, if so, what Chapter your case should be filed under. If you do opt to go forward, it is entirely possible that you will want to wait until all medical costs have already been incurred so that they can all be discharged.
Sorry to hear about your husband's illness and your financial troubles. Given the protected nature of Social Security benefits, the fact that SSI benefits are not subject to garnishment at all, and the potential similar protection available for the small government pension you mentioned in your post, I am not so sure the expense of bankruptcy filing or a similar endeavor is warranted.
The fact that your husband is receiving SSI indicates that as a couple you have no more than $3000 in countable resources. Be sure and keep you bank accounts for your Social Security money separate from any other monies you have and you will largely be judgment proof. Tell the collection agency to stop harassing you - they have no shame. If you are served with a notice of a lawsuit against you, contact Legal Aid Services (you should qualify given your financial circumstances and the attorney should be interested in representing you due to the sympathetic nature of your side of the story) or some other attorney, but in any event you should respond to any possible lawsuit rather than letting it go into default judgement.
If a creditor other than the federal government tries to garnish your Social Security benefits, inform them that such an action violates Section 207 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 407).
NOTE: SSI payments are not subject to garnishment.
Section 207 bars garnishment of your benefits. It can also be used as a defense if your benefits are incorrectly garnished. SSA has responsibility for protecting benefits against garnishment, assignments and other legal processes usually ends when the beneficiary is paid. However, once paid, benefits continue to be protected under section 207 of Act as long as they are identifiable as Social Security benefits.
However, the creditor may go after your bank account or other assets. You may lose the federal Social Security protection if you co-mingle your SSA money with other monies. Check with an attorney in your state.
Effective May 1, 2011, a new Federal regulation requires that banks which receive a garnishment order for an account into which Social Security, VA, Railroad Retirement, or Federal pensions have been deposited, must look more closely before honoring the garnishment order. The bank has to figure out the sum of such Federal benefit payments that have been deposited to the account during a two month period, and must ensure that the account holder has access to an amount equal to that sum or to the current balance of the account, whichever is lower.
Under this new regulation, you do not forfeit your protection from garnishment by mingling your Federal checks with other money -- but there are limits on the amount of money in your account that's protected from garnishment. Only 2 months worth of benefits are protected. Additionally, don't transfer benefits to another account or else the protection is void.
Federal law says that many Federal benefit payments like Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income benefits, Veteran’s benefits, Railroad Retirement benefits, and benefits from the Office of Personnel Management are not subject to garnishment in most cases. This means that these funds are exempt.
Your bank may be required to automatically protect some of your Federal benefits if they are direct deposited into your bank account and you may be able to stop your creditors from taking other exempt funds from your bank account.
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