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More than 100 million people in the US are saddled with health care debt. This includes about 40% of all adults, according to investigation from Kaiser Health News and NPR.

debt can fluctuate in their lives years and has serious consequences. In partnership with Kaiser Health News, CBS News consumer investigative correspondent Anna Werner spoke to a Chicago family whose medical debt continues to haunt them.

Marcus and Ellie Ward told CBS News they planned carefully before having children. He runs a non-profit organization and she works as a neonatal nurse. They said they got their finances in order before getting pregnant.

“It’s like you’re not ready, no matter how ready you are,” Ellie Ward said.

What they couldn’t prepare for was that the twin boys were born prematurely at only 30 weeks. Both children were diagnosed with cerebral palsy and other problems. Milo spent eight weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit, while Theo spent four months there.

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Ellie Ward with her twin boys Milo and Theo after their birth. Both babies spent some time in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Chambers


The expenses quickly depleted their insurance and they suddenly found they owed $80,000.

“There was a lot of panic and there were a lot of questions like ‘Are we filing for bankruptcy?'” Marcus Ward said.

Ellie Ward said the stress got in the way of the joy of having twins.

“Instead of being able to be present to the experience of being a new mom and a new family, a lot of times it was, ‘Oh my God. How are we going to make this work? “”, – she said.

The couple used all their savings, ran out of credit cards and emptied their retirement accounts – but it still wasn’t enough.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that a quarter of American adults with health care debt owe more than $5,000, and one in five of those with any debt say they don’t expect to ever pay it off.

The survey also showed that over the past five years, more than half of US adults have fallen into debt due to medical or dental billsand one in seven debtors say they have been denied access to a hospital, doctor or other provider because of unpaid bills.

About two-thirds of those surveyed said they had put off treatment they or a family member needed because of the cost.

“Care in the United States is much more expensive than anywhere else in the world,” said Dr. Aaron Carroll, chief medical officer at Indiana University.

When asked what caused the medical bill crisis, he said, “I think it’s a combination of high healthcare costs in America, combined with the fact that even with insurance, Americans still have to pay a significant amount for medical services. healthcare.”

This is what happened again to the Wards in 2019, when the couple enrolled their then 7-year-old boys in physical, occupational and speech therapy programs that doctors said they needed because of their diagnosis of cerebral palsy.

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Marcus and Ellie Ward with their sons Milo and Theo.

Chambers


But they said that their insurance company, which was paying for the sessions, suddenly changed course and sent them dozens of letters denying past therapy sessions.

“The postman knocked on the door and said, ‘This won’t fit through your crack, so hold on.’ And they handed us a bundle of these letters,” said Marcus Ward.

As a result, the couple said they owed about $40,000. The Wards ended up suing their insurance company and won, reducing the new debt to a few thousand dollars.

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Marcus and Ellie Ward with their sons Milo and Theo.

Chambers


But they still pay off the original debt for having twins. Price? Approximately $500 per month.

“We’re recovering, but it’s still quite a slow recovery after that,” said Marcus Ward.

On the other hand, according to Ellie Ward, they are family.

“It looks like what really worked for us is our love for each other and our love for our children,” she said.

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