I fell ill and had to go in the hospital, with no insurance. Are doctor & hospital bills discharged in bankruptcy?

As a general rule, yes.

I talk to a lot of people here at my Houston law office that seem surprised that hospital and medical bills can be discharged in bankruptcy.

Medical-related debts are "general unsecured" debts and are usually discharged without payment in chapter 7, or paid whatever amount the general unsecured class is being paid in a chapter 13 case, which is often little or nothing.

Keep in mind that if you are ordered to reimburse an ex-spouse for medical bills through a divorce decree or other order of a court, you may have to pay this kind of debt, or be held in contempt of court. Medical bills in such a case could be held to be "in the nature of child support," and not discharged by bankruptcy. 11 U.S.C. Sec. 523(a)(5).

Also, if you have a particular doctor that you are seeing and want to continue to see that doctor, even though you file bankruptcy on his bill, the doctor can refuse to treat you unless you pay it or agree to make payments on it.

If you file bankruptcy, you must list all of your debts so in such a situation you may want to contact the doctor's office and let them know that you will be paying it. You can voluntarily pay any debt that you want after a bankruptcy discharge. 11 U.S.C. Sec. 524(f).

Timing can also be important in medical bankruptcies. If you have a major surgery or major procedure coming up that you may incur a lot of medical debt on, you may want to wait until after it is over, to be sure that you can include the bills from the event.

Once the bankruptcy is filed, it may not be possible to include "after-acquired" debt in the bankruptcy. There are strategies to deal with that too, but come see us at our Houston-area law office to discuss these issues, if you are facing them.