Henry, 47, a police officer in southeast Michigan, thought all of his major operations were behind him.
At the age of 18, he underwent corrective brain surgery for epilepsy. Disability and subsequent surgery put his college education on hold, but he eventually completed it after a few years of police work.
“When I woke up,” he said of his surgery as a teenager, “I made sure I could move my feet and my fingers, and I was determined from that moment on- here to continue to fight.”
Henry, who asked that his last name and city be kept confidential but are known to Insider, had no health problems for decades until he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease heart a few years ago. The disease has caused him congestive heart failure, which means he needs a heart transplant. He is currently on the waiting list for one.
The debilitating illness disrupted the precarious balance between work and debt repayment that Henry managed for years. He owes $85,000 in student debt, which Insider verified via documents. It is a mixture of private and federal loans that he took out for his higher education. He earned his master’s degree in public policy while serving as an officer 12 years ago, with plans to run a public agency or become a college teacher. It’s a path he plans to take once he gets his new heart.
Between medical bills and student debt, Henry said his finances and health were becoming increasingly difficult to manage. It’s the intersection of two types of debt that change the lives of many Americans: about 41% of adults face health care debt, according to a recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, and about 20% of adults have student debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Having crippling medical or student debt is an endemic American burden, and Henry suddenly finds himself faced with both.
With his current job, Henry said he was no longer able to manage his debt. He used to afford semi-monthly payments of $259 by working overtime, an amount taken directly from his paycheck, which Insider verified via pay stubs. Henry’s wife also works full time, but both of their salaries go towards paying their mortgage. Henry was getting overtime for credit card payments and student loans. Henry earns around $68,000 a year, and the current student loan break is all that keeps his family from going into more debt or having to refinance their home.
But Henry can no longer work overtime in his condition. His diagnosis, pacemaker surgery, recovery and treatment took about six months, and his return to work depended on him not working overtime. He cannot retire because health insurance is not part of his benefits and his pension is much lower than his current salary. He needs insurance to pay for a heart, and he has to allocate his wages to copayments and prescriptions.
“I don’t have $60,000 in my sock to do this heart transplant,” he said.
“I couldn’t even keep up with the interest”
Right now, Henry pays a lot for co-pays and his prescriptions, even with insurance around $300 a month for drugs, and co-pays ranging from $35 to $80 for weekly home visits. doctor. The insider consulted documents to verify these amounts. The cost of inflation isn’t helping, he said, with the price of gas and groceries also squeezing his family’s budget. On top of that, he and his wife still have 18 years left on their mortgage.
He said the pandemic student loan payment break was a lucky time because it came shortly after his diagnosis. He was still making student loan payments until the break, but he was hemorrhaging money before that, he said.
He hopes for cancellation of student debt, which President Biden has said he will make a decision on by the end of this month. But he’s only expected to write off $10,000, which won’t eliminate Henry’s problems. And even though he’s been a police officer for years, he doesn’t qualify for the federal government’s Civil Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which requires borrowers to have made at least 120 payments. To make matters worse, recent reports suggest that people with college loans, like Henry, will not be included in Biden’s plan.
“All I have left is still going to student loans,” he said. “But now it goes to medical bills, I couldn’t even keep up with interest.”
For many student borrowers, interest is what snowballs their debt. For private loans in particular, interest can reach higher totals than the main loan and continue to grow even when borrowers benefit from a forbearance or suspension of payments.
Even though Henry has kept control of his payouts so far, he wouldn’t be able to do so once they resume after the current break ends. Which means a problem the size of $85,000 could become even more serious for his family.
“I worked for 24 years, giving my blood, my sweat and my tears,” he said. “I should get some sort of pass.”