Are you drowning in debt because of medical bills? Here are five ways to manage medical debt and pay your health care costs, from financial planning enthusiast and writer Clark Chambers.
“In the ongoing recession, many Americans are struggling to pay their bills and mortgage,” says Chambers. “Expensive medical bills go unpaid because they take a backseat to basic necessities – gas, water, electricity, groceries.”
You can pay off your medical debt and take care of your other financial expenses — it just takes a little juggling. If you’re dealing with bankruptcy due to medical debt, read 4 Ways to Rebuild Financially After Bankruptcy.
1. Review your medical bills, records, tests, etc. Keep documentation of all your doctor visits, lab tests, and medical procedures, which you can use to compare against your medical bills. Look closely at every itemized charge; if you don’t recognize a charge, call the billing office.
If you have health insurance, compare your medical bills against the “explanation of benefits” breakdowns you’ll get from your insurer to make sure you’re being credited for the corrected coverage amounts. You can resubmit bills to your health insurance company if you’ve been incorrectly denied coverage.
2. Don’t pay your medical bills with credit cards. If you’re getting buried in late-payment and collections notices, don’t panic and start paying off all your medical bills with credit cards.
Chances are, if you’re unable to pay those medical bills now, you’re not going to be able pay that credit card bill later. The credit card companies may be less amenable to working out an affordable and interest-free payment plan than your doctor’s local billing office.
3. Talk to the medical billing office. To start paying your health care costs, call the billing offices and let them know that you might not make your payments. Medical creditors are often very open to setting up a payment plan that will let you pay off your account in affordable installments. You may even be able to work out a medical debt settlement in which the medical accounting department agrees to write off part of your debt amount to reduce the total you owe. Many medical creditors are open to working out discounts and reduced debt settlements for people unemployed or experiencing financial hardship.
4. Bring in outside help. If an accounting or billing department won’t work with you, consider getting outside help from a certified credit counseling agency or a professional debt relief company. Credit counselors and debt relief professionals will negotiate with your medical creditors on your behalf to try to work out a settlement for medical debt.
5. Know your rights regarding health care costs. If your medical bills do go into collections, this doesn’t mean the collection companies have the right to hassle you into paying your bills. Under federal law, all collection companies have to abide by certain guidelines and rules. Collection companies can only call you between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. (your time!), and they’re not allowed to use false threats or scare tactics to get you to pay the debt off. They can’t threaten to have you arrested or sue you unless your original medical creditor intends to file a lawsuit.
If you have any questions or thoughts about these tips for managing medical debt, please comment below. For more financial planning tips, read 5 Ways to Get Rid of Your Debt.
Clark Chambers is an enthusiast on the topic of financial planning. He has been writing for three for a variety of online publications.
Need encouragement? Sign up for my weekly "Echoes of Joy" email - it's free, short, and energizing. Like me! Is your relationship in trouble? Get 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage from relationship coach Mort Fertel. It's free and helpful, no strings attached.