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Volume 76, Number 2

May 2001

Rethinking the Debates over Health Care Financing: Evidence from the Bankruptcy Courts

Melissa B. Jacoby, Teresa A. Sullivan, Elizabeth Warren

Assistant Professor of Law, Temple University. B.A., 1991, J.D., 1994, University of Pennsylvania. Vice President and Dean of Graduate Studies and Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin. B.A., 1970, Michigan State University; A.M., 1972, Ph.D., 1975, University of Chicago. Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law, Harvard University. B.S., 1970, Houston University; J.D., 1976, Rutgers University

In 1999, Professors Jacoby, Sullivan, and Warren undertook an empirical study of bankruptcy filings to understand better the circumstances that brought middle-class families to a state of financial collapse. The information gathered in the study, known as Phase III of the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, revealed that an estimated more than half a million middle-class families turned to bankruptcy courts for help after illness or injury that year. The findings of the study illustrate how bankruptcy files document the economic problems families encounter when bills mount and incomes fall in the aftermath of a medical problem. In this Article, Professors Jacoby, Sullivan, and Warren present the data from their study to illustrate that hundreds of thousands of middle-class families in the United States are devastated economically each year under the current health care finance system. Their data indicate that focusing on the presence or absence of health insurance alone would lead to an incomplete solution. Instead, the authors suggest that since bankruptcy effectively serves as part of the health care payment system, bankruptcy policy should be included in any comprehensive review of health care financing policy.