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Dealing with medical debt

April 27, 2021

By Denise Dias

Denise DiasYour trip to the hospital emergency room has resulted in a big bill. Yikes! Did you know that it is not uncommon for this type of debt to be sent to debt collections?

It is estimated that 43 million consumers have an account in collection because of medical debt. Medical debt can affect your credit report and hurt your chances of getting additional credit. Here’s what you can do to help keep your medical debt in check.

Always review your medical bills carefully. Check to see if the provider, date of service and treatment are all listed correctly. If anything is wrong or hard to understand, contact the provider and ask for an itemized bill. If you are receiving Medicare, you can log into your account on their webpage and review how it was covered by Medicare.

If you need to dispute the charges: document, document, document! Send a written notice to the provider and include copies of all relevant documents, such as letters from doctor’s offices and billing statements. Keep all your original documents! If you talk to anyone on the phone or send a letter, keep a notebook or journal with the actions you made and the people, phone numbers and time you talked to them.

You should receive a booklet each year from your policy holder outlining your coverage. Take some time to review your policy booklet so that you understand what is and is not covered. Knowing what your medical policy will cover can help you to correct billing errors that your insurance might have missed.

Check to make sure your provider has the most up-todate information on your health care coverage. A small mixup can lead to you being charged for expenses your policy should be covering.

If you find a mistake, act quickly to get it settled or file a dispute. If you have verified that you do owe the bill, try to resolve it as quickly as possible.

If you are waiting on verification from the insurer, don’t delay in contacting the provider and working out a payment solution in the interim. Don’t wait too long, otherwise the bill could end up in collections.

If it goes to collections, it will be reported to the credit bureaus and can significantly impact your credit score. If you don’t owe the bill, act fast to dispute it and get things cleared up before it becomes due.

Consider negotiating the bill with the hospital or provider where the bill is owed. They may be able to reduce the amount, usually if you pay the whole amount up front. You can also try asking for the rate that people who have insurance get. The hospital might also offer a plan that enables you to pay off the debt in installments at no interest. It doesn’t hurt to ask and find an option that will work for your financial situation.

If you are still struggling to pay your medical debt, ask the hospital if they have a financial assistance program, sometimes it is called charity care. Deadlines vary, so don’t delay in asking to see if this is an option.

Finally, do not put medical bills on your credit card. If you cannot afford to make the payment, do not use your credit card. Credit cards will charge you a higher interest rate on your balance, costing you more money and it looks like regular debt to the credit bureaus.

Ask your medical provider for a payment plan with little or no interest. The best thing you can do is to talk to the provider and explore your options for resolving the debt.

Denise Dias is family and consumer science agent at the Johnson County Extension Office.