Health

HOW DO I PAY OFF MEDICAL DEBT?

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Paying medical bills in the US

If you come to the US and get sick or hurt, you will have to see a doctor.  If the illness or injury is serious, you may even end up at the hospital.  All of this costs money, and sometimes, it costs a lot of money. Medical debt is money that is owed to the doctor who took care of you, or the hospital where you stayed.

If you get a bill that is too expensive for you to pay, don’t ignore it.  It’s important to deal with the debt right away. It’s also a good idea to explain your financial situation to the hospital or your doctor, so that you can negotiate a payment plan or price you can afford.

To understand how the medical system works in the US, it’s important to know about health insurance.  Some people who come to the US for work or school can get health insurance. Others live in the US without it. Let’s talk about both.

Medical bills without health insurance

If you receive a medical bill and don’t have health insurance, try and deal with the doctor directly.  Call the office and see if you can receive a discount.  Some doctors’ offices will lower the amount that you owe if you pay in cash.

You can also try to work out a payment plan. Some states require hospitals to offer discounts to uninsured patients, regardless of how much money you make.  Also, some hospitals and medical groups have funds set aside for people who do not qualify for other types of assistance.  It’s important to ask about this when talking to someone about your medical bills.  

Medical Bills with Health Insurance

If you receive a medical bill that you think should have been covered by your insurance company, contact them.  You have the right to file an appeal if the insurance company isn’t covering the cost of something.  Appeals must be done quickly.  You should expect them to try and deny the claim and delay a decision.  In the end, you may still have to pay the bill.

How do I Pay Off Medical Debt?

Once you have taken on medical debt, it should be treated just like any other debt.  It needs to be paid back.  Here are some tips to help you do that. 

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  • Create a budget.  You’ll need to factor this payment into your monthly budget. 
  • Try to settle the debt.  You may have the option to settle the debt for less than what is owed. You should contact the doctor or hospital and begin to negotiate.  Sometimes it helps to hire a professional to do this for you.  Look for a debt settlement firm. 
  • Use a medical credit card. Financial experts will tell you it is never a good idea to use a credit card to pay off a medical debt. If you are confident you can pay off the credit card bill quickly, then you can consider it.  Some people like to use medical credit cards, specifically designed to cover medical expenses. Application forms are sometimes available in doctors’ offices.  
  • Use a medical bill advocate. Medical bill or patient advocates are people who understand the system and can help you negotiate.  They often charge a fee or a percentage of the money they save you.  You can find one by contacting the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants or the Alliance of Claims Assistance Professionals.

What if I don’t pay my bill?

If you receive a medical bill in the mail and choose to do nothing, it will go into collections. That means a company working on behalf of the hospital or the doctor will continuously contact you to try and get payment.  They can call you, email you, or send letters in the mail.  Sometimes, they do all three.

Once your medical bill is sent to collections, it will hurt your credit score. Marks against you are not good and something you should try to avoid.

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