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You’re Not Alone: How To Approach Paying Off Medical Debt

Dealing with major medical bills can be overwhelming.  They can be troublesome when trying to pay them off all the while trying to keep your credit in good standing.  And although medical debt can plague anyone at anytime and at any age, the daunting task of keeping up and paying this type of debt is most common among our nation’s seniors, those 65 and older.

If you find yourself bombarded with medical bills for doctor’s visits, hospital stays, radiology, laboratory, physical therapy, and/or any number of other medical charges, handling this debt (at any age) is stressful and seemingly unmanageable.  But before giving up and raising the white flag, know that there is help available.

What NOT to do

There are two important things you DO NOT want to do in remedying your medical debt.

  1. Do not use your credit cards for medical dept.  It’s important to know that by using credit cards for medical debt, you lose all negotiating power you may have had with your provider(s) and hospital.  As well, you run the risk of ruining your credit if unable to pay the bill.
  2. Do not mortgage your home to pay medical bills! If you’re unable to pay the mortgage(s) you could end up losing your home to foreclosure, thereby adding more stress to an already stressful situation.

What to DO

Always review the bill and make sure it is itemized. If the bill you receive is not itemized, request one. Check the bill for errors.  Medical bills can be long and complicated and often with errors.  If you’re having difficulty deciphering the bill, ask for assistance from the medical billing and coding department- they should be able to help you.  You can also hire a claims assistant professional to help if they’re extremely complicated.  There is a fee but in the long run it may save you money.

Most medical debt will not harm your credit score unless it’s been submitted to a collection agency for being delinquent.  Many doctor’s and medical facilities do not report payment information to credit reporting agencies.  However, some facilities will not hesitate to do so. If you find you’ve been sent to collections, do not ignore them – your problem will not go away.  Contact them and work something out.

Possible Solutions

  • Payment Plan – Speak with your physician’s office or billing department about setting up an affordable monthly payment plan.  Make sure the agreed amount is doable. If you find your situation worsens, contact them and try to set up a new payment plan. They will be more apt to work with you IF you have faithfully made payments as agreed upon and communicated with them when needed.  Please, make sure to get all your payment agreements in writing.
  • Debt program – Most hospitals have a dept program that will work with you in resolving the dept, allowing you to make payments.  They may even offer a reduction in the amount due if paid in full within a designated time frame.
  • Discounts – If you are uninsured, it is customary to pay the doctor’s office fee upon services rendered; however, if you’re unable to pay in its entirety, ask if you can pay the same amount most insurance companies pay after allowances are made. This negotiating must to be done prior to seeing the doctor.
  • Cash Discount – You can also ask to receive a percentage discount if immediate payment is made at the time of the visit.  Many doctors and hospitals offer this discount, but again, it must be negotiated beforehand.
  • Charity Care Program – Most major non-profit hospitals have a charity program that will pick up all or much of the hospital expenses for those who can not pay (indigent) or for those with special needs.
  • Financial Assistance Programs – Apply for government assistance.  Contact your local DHS office, your state, or local government agency.  They should be able to provide you with information that may be available to you.
  • Charitable Aid – There are many non-profit organizations dedicated to helping those in need.  Most will have certain criteria that must be met in order to qualify, such as being diagnosed with certain conditions or illnesses and level of income stipulations.  Here are a few contact ideas to help get you started:  the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the United Way, and the Internet.

It is difficult dealing with a major illness or disability in of itself, and making matters worse, is the overwhelming bombardment of medical bills.  For some it may feel as though their life is falling apart, but remember there is help available.  Hospitals have patient advocates, financial counselors and medical billing professionals that may be able to assist you and guide you, helping you through this time of need.  It does take some effort, but is well worth it.

Ultimately you are the one responsible for paying your bill.  Get a handle on it and know where you stand.

Cathy Crilley West is a freelance writer with many years experience in bookkeeping and billing in medical offices. She is a native Californian now residing in NE Oklahoma.

Tim Esterdahl

Tim Esterdahl is the editor of IFCS blog. He is a married father of three and enjoys golf in his spare time.

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