Small Business Brief

Medical & Services

Help, I Can’t Afford My Medical Bills! What Can I Do?

As the cost of healthcare continues to skyrocket, more and more people are faced with medical debt. If one day your faced with astronomical bills that you can’t afford, don’t pull your hair out, screaming, “I can’t afford my medical bills!” Read this article for ways to get help relieve (or eliminate) the debt.

If you’re struggling with medical debt, you might be afraid to say, “I can’t afford my medical bills.”

You’re far from alone.

Unpaid medical bills are a huge problem for many Americans. And it’s NOT symbolic of personal failure. In fact, it’s a common problem.

A 2016 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that roughly a quarter of Americans 18 to 64 have trouble paying medical bills. Of those, nearly half report that the impact on their families has been significant.

One thing is for certain:

There’s No Shame in Saying, “I Can’t Afford My Medical Bills”

Medical debt doesn’t just affect low-income households or those with no insurance. It can strike even those with insurance and sizable incomes.

For example, serious injuries after a car accident can happen to anyone. Any lawyer will tell you how difficult it can be to navigate the health insurance system. Just ask the lawyers with The Utah Advocates.

So most people respond instead by delaying needed purchases, working more, borrowing from friends and family, tapping into savings or retirement, putting off medical appointments and even filing for bankruptcy.

But there are steps you can take before having to go that extreme.

1. Check Your Bills Carefully

When you get a medical bill, look it over for errors such as double billing, incorrect room rates and medications you didn’t actually receive. These errors happen more often than you might think and show up as needless charges on your bill.

This is especially the case if the bill is for a procedure that required a hospital stay. So don’t be afraid to ask for an itemized bill so you can see exactly what your money is going toward.

2. Negotiate

Don’t assume that the amount in carved in stone. It is possible to negotiate with your medical provider.

This is particularly important if you don’t have insurance because self-pay patients are often charged a much higher rate than those with insurance. That’s because huge insurance agencies use their clout to negotiate for better pricing.

So, find out if you’re able to get lower rates on your medical procedures. Your medical provider may just cut you a break.

3. Consult the Billing Department

Despite what you might think, the vast majority of doctors don’t want to send their patients’ bills to collections.

But they are running a medical business and need to get paid.

That’s why many hospitals and doctors’ offices have set up financial assistance so patients can pay their bills without going through collections.

One such financial assistance program is bill reduction or forgiveness. The billing department is often willing to make concessions on what is owed – especially in situations that are more dire or severe.

The other type of assistance that most hospitals offer are payment plans. There are no eligibility requirements and they’re typically available with 0% interest. So while they don’t reduce your bill, they remove the burden of having to make a big payment up front.

You might also be able to take advantage of both of these forms of assistance by qualifying for a reduction and then paying that reduced bill over a number of months.

4. Look into Government-Funded Aid

Another potential route for assistance is through the government.

Low-income individuals and families can sometimes qualify for Medicare and Medicaid.

Eligibility for these programs varies by state and is usually based on age, family size, income, and any disability status. You can fill out an application with your local social services division to see if you qualify.

If you are able to get covered through one of these programs, it could mean a serious reduction or even elimination of those medical bills.

5. Apply for Charity Care

Of course, not everyone qualifies for government-funded care. Even if money is really tight.

In this case, you may be able to get charity care.

These programs are designed to help people who don’t qualify for Medicare or Medicaid but can’t afford to pay the full expense of their medical care.

Eligibility is based on your income and assets. So if you have too many assets to qualify, you might be required to sacrifice them down to get approved for the program.

Even if you do qualify, you may still be required to pay a percentage of your medical bills based on your income.

It is important to note here that charity care only applies to costs related to services received at a hospital and not a doctor’s office.

6. Negotiate with Collectors

If you’re unable to avoid your bill being sent to collections, all hope is not lost. You still have the power of negotiation.

Once the bill is sent to collections, wait a little bit and then negotiate with them. Medical debt can be discharged for pennies on the dollar.

So if you’re absolutely unable to pay off the debt, discuss with the collector the amount you CAN pay. Even if that’s only a percentage of the outstanding debt, it’s better than nothing.

7. Hire An Advocate

If all of this seems like too much to handle, don’t worry. You can always enlist the help of a medical billing advocate who understands how to read these bills.

Medical billing advocates are insurance agents, lawyers, nurses and healthcare administrators who can help you to decipher and even lower your bills. They know just how to do everything we mentioned above – check for errors, negotiate those bills and appeal excessive charges.

Just be prepared to pay your advocate about 30% of the amount by which your bill is reduced.

8. File for Bankruptcy Only As a Last Resort

Bankruptcy should only be considered if you absolutely can’t get the hospital to lower your bill and you don’t qualify for any type of aid program.

You can file Chapter 7 bankruptcy and once your case is discharged, your debt will be erased. Regardless of how much it is.

The big drawback is that in order to file, you may have to give up some or all of your assets. And it will stay on your credit for 10 years, resulting in a lower score.

Plus, keep in mind that you can only get a Chapter 7 discharge once every eight years. That means if you have an ongoing health condition, you won’t be able to file again for eight years. So it’s solely a short-term solution.

We Wish You Good Health

And just remember that there’s no shame in saying, “I can’t afford my medical bills.” You do have options.

We hope this article helped to ease some of your worries.

And be sure to keep checking back with us for more articles that will help guide you.