Did you know that according to the American Journal of Medicine, more than half of people who file personal bankruptcy name hospital bills as the primary reason? An average single day in the hospital costs around $10,000. Plus, millions of Americans are uninsured or underinsured. So, it’s easy to see why.
What are you to do if you are struggling with insurmountable medical bills? Here is how to deal with medical debt, according to the financial experts.
1. Review all bills
Medical bills are boring to read and confusing to understand. However, you must review each statement you get from a hospital or healthcare provider. Make sure the bill is only for the services they provided. If you went to the emergency room and were treated and released after a few hours, your bill should indicate that. If you review your statement and see that the hospital charged for an overnight stay or services you never received, you know there’s been a mistake. Inform the hospital billing department, and if you have insurance, also notify your insurance company.
2. Contact your medical provider
Call your medical provider’s office — whether that’s a doctor’s office or hospital — and ask if you qualify for financial assistance. In fact, most hospitals have a department dedicated to helping those who are unable to pay their medical bills. If you are low-income, check to see if your hospital is a nonprofit. According to federal law, nonprofit hospitals must provide qualified low-income patients with free or discounted care.
If you earn too much to qualify, now is the time to be bold. Explain that you have a bill you can’t afford to pay and request either a reduction in the amount owed or debt forgiveness. Do not assume that the sticker price is set in stone. It’s possible that the medical provider would rather receive some payment than no payment at all.
3. Create a budget
If you don’t already have a monthly budget in place, create one. Make sure that your budget clearly shows your monthly income and all financial obligations. If you find that you have a little extra left after you pay all other bills, you have a sense of how much you can afford to pay towards your medical expenses.
4. Keep up with your other bills
No matter how much pressure you feel to pay a medical debt, continue to pay your rent or mortgage, credit card bills, auto loan, personal loan, and any other fixed expenses. These financial obligations are reported to the credit bureaus, and missed payments will harm your credit score. By law, credit bureaus cannot record negative information regarding medical bills until those bills are at least six months past due.
5. Work with a credit counselor
If it all feels too big to handle alone, a trained credit counselor can negotiate with your medical provider on your behalf. One way to locate a credible counseling service is by contacting the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. This organization has nearly 70 years of experience directing consumers toward nonprofit agencies that will step in, offer advice, and help you see past your debt.
Do you have any personal experience or advice on how to deal with medical debt? Reply using the comments below.