Get better. Get billed. That’s the reality of healthcare in the United States and while medical debt collections can wreck credit ratings, marriages and in some cases, lives, there are various ways for patients to deal with healthcare bills to get back on top.
Understanding your bill – Review your medical bills carefully to check for any mistakes. Even if you are covered by insurance, the cost of billing errors may come out of your pocket in the form of higher co-payments and drug costs.
Disputing your bill – If you are unable to resolve a billing dispute with a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office, contact government offices or services that normally handle these matters in your state.
Paying off your debt and protecting your credit card – Unless you have successfully challenged your bill, you are responsible for paying all of your medical bills. If you cannot pay, here are some things to consider:
- Try to negotiate a payment plan. Your hospital or provider may be willing to accept smaller monthly payments. Keep in mind that your payments generally need to be reasonable and you must keep up with your payments.
- The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends notifying the appropriate offices quickly; keeping in touch with creditors; recording names and phone numbers of the people you deal with, document the date, time, and results of your phone calls, and making small payments – even a tiny amount on each bill each month makes a good gesture.
- Go for credit counseling. Be aware, though, that some services charge high fees and do nothing to really help reduce your debt. Make sure you are working with a credit counseling service (also known as an adjustment service agency) that is licensed by the state you live in.
- Be creative about finding help from outside sources. Charitable foundations, civic organizations and churches and community groups might be able to help.
- Don’t ignore bills. Though tempting, this is not a good strategy. Hospitals and providers are more likely to negotiate with you if you contact them immediately.
- Don’t transfer debt to a credit card. Most experts warn that this is a poor choice for paying off medical debt for two reasons: First,the interest rates on your credit card will add significantly to your total payment. Second, transferring medical debt to a credit card may affect your eligibility for Medicaid. Some medical costs can be deducted from gross income to determine your Medicaid eligibility. Medical debt on a credit card may no longer qualify as medical debt.
Dealing with collection agencies – If your hospital or other health care provider has turned your bill over to a collection agency that deals with healthcare revenue cycle management, you are protected against harassment by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).