According to the Journal of General Internal Medicine, in 2019 about 137.1 million adults in the United States faced financial hardship due to large medical bills. Struggling to pay a medical bill is nothing to be ashamed of, but is truly a common issue. So how do you tackle this problem?
Don’t ignore the bill
If it’s a large bill that you know you can’t afford, your first instinct might be to ignore it. Don’t! Ignoring the bill will only hurt you more in the long run when it eventually goes to collections and ruins your credit score. Face the problem head on with the following steps.
Make sure the bill is correct
First things first, make sure the medical bill you received is correct. Errors in the billing could end up costing you much more than you actually owe. Review your bill to make sure it looks correct. Start by reviewing the statement of benefits from your insurer (if you have health insurance). Make sure your health insurance has covered their part of the payment correctly. Look for any duplicates or services you did not receive. If there is anything you are unsure of, don’t hesitate to call your medical billing office to verify the charge.
Negotiate a payment plan
Now that you know for sure how much you owe, talk with your medical billing office to see if you can work out a payment plan of some type. Some places might offer it directly on the bill, but if not, still don’t hesitate to ask about the possibility of a payment plan. Some medical providers also offer medical credit cards that you could apply for that are interest free for a period of time. Don’t wait until your bill is late to reach out – talk to someone as soon as you receive your bill and confirm its accuracy. If you are able to negotiate a plan, make sure you get it in writing.
Ask for a quick payment discount
If you have the funds upon receipt of the bill, call and ask for a discount for paying immediately in one lump sum. This can sometimes save you a large amount of money. Again, if you are able to negotiate a discount, make sure you have a copy of it in writing.
Don’t use a consumer credit card to pay your bill
If you already can’t afford the bill, putting it on a credit card (other than a medical credit card) won’t help much. Since you won’t be able to pay it off before you have to start paying interest on it, it will be even harder to pay it back with 10-20% interest on top. Unless it is a medical credit card explicitly for making medical payments or a 0% financing credit card, other options, including other loan types, are a better idea. Don’t leave yourself in a never-ending cycle of debt.
Talk to your health insurance company
See if your health insurance will cover more on a “one-time-only” type of deal. If your health insurer does agree to this, understand that this typically only happens once per policy, so make sure you use it on the bill that will get you the most savings.
You can also ask your health insurance if anything else can be done. Sometimes they will cover more anyway, but you have to ask. You have nothing to lose by asking! The worst they can say is no.
Get a medical bill advocate
Medical bill advocates are medical billing experts who can negotiate your bills on your behalf. These advocates know common costs for procedures and know how to read all types of health bills. If you’re uneasy trying to negotiate on your own, an advocate can be a great option. Don’t forget, however, to make sure that any fees you would be paying the advocate are outweighed by the amount you will be saving on your outstanding medical bills.
Apply for a loan
While it is not recommended to use a credit card to pay off medical bills, there are other loans that are better options if you are unable to arrange an interest-free payment plan with your medical provider. The best, lowest-interest option is a home equity loan. Since these are backed by real estate, they tend to have much lower interest rates than unsecured loans. If you are unable to get a home equity loan, personal loans are another option that may have a slightly lower rate than a credit card. Be sure to focus on interest rates, monthly payments, and repayment terms when choosing a loan to pay for your medical bills.
If you need a loan to cover your large medical bills, Patriot can help. Learn more about our home equity options and our personal loans by visiting our website, calling our contact center at 888-777-9982, or stopping into any of our branches during normal business hours. We want to help make this season of life easier on you. We’re in these uncertain times together!