What to do if you can’t afford a medical bill

Nicole Broadhurst |

This post was written for Thatch by Nicole Broadhurst. Nicole is a patient advocate at Tennessee Health Advocates; she's been in the healthcare field for more than 20 years.

Medical bills can be a major financial burden. In fact, medical debt is the #1 cause of bankruptcy in the US. If you find yourself struggling to pay a medical bill, it’s important to take action as soon as possible. In this article, we’ll review some steps you can take to manage your medical bills and get the help you need.

Step 1: Review your medical bills for errors

Medical billing errors are common, and they can result in overcharges or incorrect fees. Make sure the services listed on the bill are accurate and that you haven’t been charged for any services you didn’t receive. If you find any errors, contact your healthcare provider or insurer to correct them.

Need help reviewing your medical bills? Read about how to spot medical billing errors.

Step 2: Contact your insurance carrier to ensure coverage was applied correctly

Next, contact your insurer to confirm your coverage was appropriately applied to your medical bill. It’s important to understand your insurance coverage and any out-of-pocket costs you’re responsible for. Review your insurance policy and contact your insurer to confirm your benefits and coverage. If you have a high deductible plan, you may be responsible for a large portion of your medical bills before your insurance coverage will assist in paying. However, if you have a high deductible health plan you may also be eligible for an HSA, which can help you save money on out-of-pocket healthcare costs.

Step 3: Contact your healthcare provider for financial assistance

If you’ve reviewed the medical bill for errors and ensured the bill was appropriately processed by your insurance carrier, the next step is to contact your healthcare provider. Most providers offer financial assistance to patients who are facing financial hardships. Many hospitals have financial counselors who will help you understand your options and guide you through the process.

Be sure to explain your financial situation and request the financial assistance policy and application. You can also inquire if they have a cash discount for payment in full.

Step 4: Negotiate with your healthcare provider

In the event that you don’t qualify for financial assistance, you can still negotiate with your healthcare provider. A great first step is to compare your medical charges to the average cash prices in your area, and use that information to negotiate. We recommend Turquoise Health, Healthcare Bluebook, or FairHealthConsumer.org for price comparison. Use this information to submit a settlement letter to your healthcare provider to settle the account for the fair market value of the services you received. You may also want to consider working with a medical billing advocate who can help negotiate with your provider. Learn more about finding a medical billing advocate.

Step 5: Seek assistance from community organizations

Many community organizations offer assistance to people who are unable to afford their medical bills. For example, your local Area Agency on Aging will help you apply for government programs like Medicaid. While designed to serve the local elderly and aging population, this agency is a wealth of information for all community members.

In addition to your local Area Agency on Aging, you can also seek assistance from the Patient Advocate Foundation (PAN), which provides case management services and financial assistance to people with chronic, life-threatening, or debilitating illnesses. Local charitable organizations such as community foundations and church ministries also often have programs to help.

Step 6: Consider a medical credit card

If you are unable to obtain assistance from community organizations or negotiate a settlement with your healthcare providers, you may want to consider a medical credit card. Medical credit cards are specifically designed to pay for medical expenses and they often have lower interest rates than traditional credit cards.

Medical credit cards, such as CareCredit, allow you to finance your medical bills and pay them off over time. These cards often offer low- or no-interest introductory financing for a set period of time. It’s extremely important to read the terms and conditions carefully and make sure you can afford the payments before signing up for a medical credit card.

Always take action with your medical bills

If you can’t afford a medical bill, stay calm. By following the simple steps laid out in this article, you’ll be able to manage your medical bills and get the help you need.

It’s important to take action and not ignore your medical bills. Delays in dealing with your bills can result in late fees, collections, and ultimately damage your credit score. Find a solution that works for you to manage medical bills and avoid negative consequences by advocating for yourself. If your employer uses Thatch and you need help with a bill, reach out any time!

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