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Student-Loan Borrower Chooses Between Paying Debt and Health Insurance

  • Robin O’Brien, 61, has $64,000 in student debt from her master’s degree.
  • She’s experiencing long COVID, which has caused her to work part time earning half an income.
  • Now, she’s forced to choose between affording health insurance or paying off her student debt.

Even on an income-driven repayment plan for her $64,000 student-debt load, Robin O’Brien can’t afford the payments.

After working in long-term care facilities for 25 years, O’Brien said the next step in her career was becoming an administrator — but in order to be in that field while making a sufficient income, she needed a master’s degree. When she took out federal loans to take online classes at two public universities, and after graduating in 2017, there was no way she could have foreseen the pandemic and the financial strain it would bring.

Now, she’s dealing with long-COVID symptoms that forced her to work part time, and her medical bills and student-debt bills are unmanageable.

“Right now, I’m picking five of the envelopes with medical bills, and then I’ll pay them $20 apiece,” O’Brien said, referring to the stack of bills she gets each month. “And the next month I’ll take five

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