“My doctor saved my life, but my medical bills are stealing from my children’s lives.”Jeni Rae Peters
Jeni Rae Peters, 44, Rapid City, South Dakota
Approximate Medical Debt: More than $30,000
Medical Issue: Breast cancer
What Happened: Jeni Rae Peters’ budget has always been tight. But Peters, a single mom and mental health counselor, has worked to provide opportunities for her children, including two girls she adopted and a succession of foster children. One of her daughters had been homeless.
Then two years ago, Peters was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.
Multiple surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy controlled the disease. But, despite having insurance, Peters was left with more than $30,000 of debt and mounting threats from bill collectors.
One collection call came as Peters was lying in the recovery room after her double mastectomy. “I was kind of delirious, and I thought it was my kids,” she said. “It was someone asking me to pay a medical bill.”
Through the surgeries and treatments, Peters kept working so she would not lose her insurance. She took on extra work to pay some of the bills. Five days a week, she works back-to-back shifts at both a mental health crisis center and a clinic where she counsels teenagers, some of whom are suicidal. Last year, three friends on the East Coast paid off some of the debt.
But Peters’ credit score has tumbled below 600. And she worries constantly about how she will provide for her children.
Peters said she could drop car insurance for her teenage daughter, who just got her license. Canceling ice skating …