As a bankruptcy lawyer, I counsel thousands of people in Indiana each year on their finances, and when necessary, serve as their representative in the Indiana bankruptcy court system. All too often, I find families in which children are not covered by health insurance. Perhaps one or both parents lost a job and could not afford the premiums for health insurance under COBRA. Sometimes a single parent struggling under a big debt load, working for an employer that does not provide coverage, simply has to choose to use her limited income for food, shelter, and debt service. Insurance just doesn’t make the list of bills that can get paid. In fact, medical bills are one of the top three causes of bankruptcy, along with divorce and job shakeups. And, if a family has a child with a pre-existing condition, it’s even harder to get back to having affordable medical coverage.

The state hopes SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) will come to the rescue for thousands of additional families. SCHIP is a federally initiated and subsidized, but state-administered, program of health insurance through the Medicaid system. The Indiana system is called Hoosier Healthwise, and it provides free health care to children covered by Medicaid or by SCHIP. SCHIP typically covers children in families earning no more than twice the poverty level, but now Indiana is negotiating to expand the program to an additional 10,000-20,000 children.

As I counsel with my bankruptcy clients and help them weigh their financial options, healthcare costs play a very important part in our discussions. With the help of the safety net provided by the Indiana bankruptcy court process, bankruptcy clients can get a fresh start on rebuilding their financial lives. But that new start must include health coverage.

I worry about the people who try to navigate the bankruptcy process without seeking professional help. Many who would qualify don’t know about the SCHIP program and how it might provide coverage for their children while the parents get back on their financial feet. Having helped tens of thousands of Indiana folks through the bankruptcy process for almost twenty-five years, I know health coverage plays a vitally important role in the financial healing process!