Tips For Managing Medical Debt


Most people prefer to leave the hospital feeling better than when they entered. However, with today’s cost of health care, and an increasing amount of that cost being passed along to the consumer, the discharged patient may exit with a financial migraine coming on.

A Harvard study found that the number one reason (62%) of all personal bankruptcies in the U.S. were caused by health problems. And this isn’t only a worry for people that are uninsured- 78% of those who filed bankruptcy because of medical bills had insurance.

In response, The NFCC recommends the following when struggling to satisfy medical debt:

  • Use caution when applying for a medical credit card that transfers all of the debt away from the provider and onto the new card. Whereas the medical debt may not carry any interest with it, the credit card will, at least after the initial low or zero interest rate expires. The most likely candidate to be offered such a card is the individual who is struggling to make the medical payments on time. It’s not too far of a leap to think that this same individual may not be able to service the medical credit card in a timely fashion, which often results in double-digit interest being assessed on the debt. Additionally, whereas the medical provider may not report delinquencies to a credit bureau, the credit card issuer probably will. As is true with any business decision, do not be rushed into such an arrangement.
  • Go over your bill with care, noting any items you do not understand, as well as any charges you want to question. Estimates show that an extremely high percentage of medical bills contain errors, and it is highly unlikely that the error will be in your favor. Watch for duplicate billing for the same service. This procedure gets complicated, as you may be receiving bills from several different providers, but the time spent confirming all charges can save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
  • Inquire to see if you qualify for any type of charity or other write-downs. This is essential if you are not insured, but even those who carry health insurance can often negotiate a better payment, particularly if they’re underinsured. Start by asking what the fee would be if you were a Medicare patient. Don’t be surprised if it’s as much as 50 percent less than what you were charged. You will have to work out separate payment arrangements with each provider, but again, this will be time well-spent.
  • Make sure you understand what you should be paying and what your insurance company is responsible for. Stay in the loop, making certain that payments are being disbursed on time. Many people don’t understand that the ultimate responsibility for payment lies with them. Therefore, you’ll want to stay on top of any dispute between the provider and your insurance company.
  • Have a friend or family member advocate for you. Particularly with a hospital stay or serious illness, your judgment may be temporarily impaired. If you don’t feel up to dealing with the business office alone, don’t be ashamed to ask for assistance. There are professionals who can help you wade through the insurance quagmire and make sure you understand exactly what you should be paying for. Reach out to an NFCC Member Agency for such help.
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