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What To Do If You Have Medical Bills You Can't Afford

Medical debt spares no one.

Finance

Medical debt spares no one, regardless of age or education status. Even those who are financially stable are facing medical debt. Actually, over 50 percent of Americans who have medical debt don't even have other types of debt on their credit reports. The fear of medical debts can prevent people from seeking the medical care they so desperately need, which can be dangerous. This fear is common because about one-third of Americans admitted to postponing medical care to spare themselves the medical costs.


Having medical debt hanging over your head can create a high-amount of unwanted stress, so it's vital to understand how to pay off some or all of your medical debt.

Review Your Itemized Bill

Have you ever received a ginormous medical bill in the mail and began to panic? Well, that paper bill might not even be correct. A lot of medical providers send you a paper bill showing your total balance owed without the individual charges that add up to your sum total. Request an itemized bill; it's an essential step to take when attempting to reduce your medical bills. Also, if you have a digital bill you can easily access the individual service and fees charged through your medical provider's patient portal.

Once you have access to your itemized bill, it's time to review it. This part can be a little tricky if you have no idea what you're looking for. There are a few things to look for when reviewing your bill, such as are there charges for services that you never received? Did the medical provider bill my insurance correctly? Was I charged for out-of-network services when I'm actually in-network?

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Negotiate Your Medical Bills

As quiet as it's kept, you can negotiate your medical bills. The most important step for successful negotiating is to ask open-ended questions because this will push the provider to reveal the discounts, programs, and waivers that could help you.

Not only is it important to ask open-ended questions, but it's a great idea to incentivize the provider. For example, offer to pay your bill in full if the fees are waived or offer to pay your bill in full if you were charged the same rates Medicare would pay.

If this entire negotiation process seems a bit overwhelming, you don't even need to negotiate with the provider yourself. There are multiple companies that will aid you in lowering your medical bills for a 20%-30% share of the money you no longer need to pay for. This is convenient because if you don't receive any savings, you don't have to pay them.

Apply For Financial Assistance

More than 27 million Americans did not have health insurance, including 58% of low-income working adults and 44% of young adults in the year 2020. If you lack health insurance or your health insurance doesn't provide great coverage for your medical expenses, then you may be eligible for financial assistance.

Many hospitals offer financial assistance, but you need to apply for it. It's vital to apply as soon as possible because most programs disqualify your eligibility for assistance after about 240 days after the medical services were provided. Most applications require the patient to provide a detailed expense list, list of assets, family member information, proof of income, and tax returns.

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Payment Plan

Enrolling in the medical provider's payment plan is the most popular method to pay off medical bills. Payment plans are fitting for anyone who wants to make payments on their bill, but can't pay it off in one lump sum payment. The frequency of payment and payment amount is unique to the terms you negotiate with your medical provider. Usually, the entirety of your amount owed is divided into numerous equal payments over a period, until your balance is non-existent.

If you choose a payment plan, make sure not to choose payments that prevent you from paying higher priority bills, since non-payment of medical debt has less immediate consequences than other bills.

Sadly, high medical costs continue to grow every year, which makes understanding how to lower medical costs an important tool every American should have in their toolbox. That's why it's critical to discover the options available to lower your debt, in order to avoid medical bankruptcy before your debt spirals out of control.

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Featured image by Getty Images

This article is in partnership with Xfinity.

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