Almost 25 percent of adults in this country said that they or a household member had problems paying medical bills in the past year, according to a 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation poll. This may be even higher this year with the pandemic’s economic and health consequences. However, negotiations, bankruptcy and other options may address medical debt.
If bills remain unpaid, the health care facility will typically sell the debt to a collections agency which will try to recover its investment in this debt. Collection agents may call, write, and text for repayment. A creditor or collector may file a lawsuit against the debtor if the debts are not paid.
Collectors cannot engage in harassment, call in the middle of the night, lie or threaten to arrest or deport you. You also have time to confirm that the debt is yours.
A bill in collections can lower credit scores. Collections listings remain on a FICO credit report for up to seven years.
Confirm that the bill is correct. You may ask for an itemized statement and audit it for unnecessary charges, double billing, and unexpected fees. Request that the health care facility put your account on hold for 30 days while you review it and make necessary calls.
Call your insurance company if you believe that it did not pay for necessary items. Compare your itemized bill with the explanation of benefits statements.
You may also compare your bill against medical records to ensure that charges match information in your records. Notify your health care provider or insurer of any errors or discrepancies. Ask for their removal and reduction of your bill.
You may also speak to the hospital billing office or negotiate with the debt collector if the debt is in collections. Explain your situation and ask for consideration such as a zero-interest payment plan. If a procedure was not covered by insurance, ask the health care provider if you can pay a lower insurance rate.
Be polite. Take good notes containing the date, time, representative’s name, and call reference number.
Nonprofit hospitals must provide financial assistance to eligible low-income patients who cannot pay their bills. Applicants will need to submit proof such as pay stubs and tax documents. A for-profit facility may also offer similar programs.
Medical debt may be discharged in bankruptcy and help protect assets. But this could harm your credit score and make it more difficult to qualify for consumer debt. Bankruptcies remain on a FICO credit report for up to 10 years.
An attorney can help deal with creditors and provide options to deal with debt. If debt becomes overwhelming, lawyers may help you file bankruptcy.