If you’re struggling to pay down medical debt, know that you’re not alone. It is estimated that millions of Americans, both insured and uninsured, have unpaid medical debt. Here’s what to do if you find yourself unable to pay a medical bill:
Review your bill closely
Billing errors are not uncommon, so be sure to check any medical bill you receive for errors as soon as you receive it. (If you didn’t get an itemized bill, ask for one!) Be on the lookout for duplicate services or services you don’t recognize and charges that your insurance should have covered. If something doesn’t look right, call your insurance company or the provider’s billing department and ask them to clarify.
Negotiate your bill
If you want to negotiate your bill, contact your provider’s billing manager right away—don’t wait until your bill is past due. You might be able to justify lower charges by comparing what you were charged to other providers in your area. If you need help, consider hiring a medical billing advocate to help you decipher and lower your bills.
If you are experiencing financial hardship, you can request assistance. Some hospitals are required to provide assistance to low-income patients. You can also research charitable and community organizations that might be able to help you pay your debt.
Get on a repayment plan
Many providers have repayment plan options available with no or low-interest options. These plans will allow you to pay over a few months until your bill is covered. You can also ask if the provider will charge you the discounted fee that Medicare or Medicaid pays.
Try a medical credit card
You may be able to apply for a medical credit card, which often offers an interest-free period to help you pay off your debt. Keep in mind that once the interest-free period is over, you may be hit with a high interest rate that will make your debt higher in the long term.
Always prioritize your debts
If you find yourself with multiple debts including medical debt, start by prioritizing those with the highest interest rate first. Keep in mind that once your medical debt goes to a collection agency, it can be reported to the three major credit bureaus and have a negative impact on your credit score.