Dealing with debt from medical expenses


It is estimated that about 69.3 million Americans have had trouble paying their medical bills. This article provides general information about some of the ways that you and your family can address the problem of unexpected medical bills. You should address your medical bills as soon as possible. Among other things, delinquent medical bills may harm your credit score.

  • Review your bill. Always review your bill immediately when you receive it. Hospital bills often come weeks after the hospital visit and may contain a large amount of confusing information. It is important to confirm that all of the charges on a bill are correct. If you have questions, call and speak with someone at the hospital about the bill.  If you dispute anything on the bill, make sure you are aware of the formal dispute process of the health care provider. Sometimes, you are not able to dispute a bill after you have started making payments.
  • Negotiate. The Hospital or the health care provider may consider reducing the fee.
  • Payment plans. Often doctors and hospitals will work with patients and their families to develop a payment plan to address the medical bills. It is important to ask if there is an interest charge. Above all, the repayment plan must be realistic; consider your income and cash flow to determine if you will be able to make the payments on an ongoing basis. Insist that the payment plan is in writing, to reduce confusion in the future. Should circumstances change, ask if you may renegotiate the payment plan. Ask if there is a bill dispute provision in the payment plan—some health care providers will allow you to pay for the parts of the bill that you do not dispute while working to resolve the issues on the bill.
  • Hospital Programs. Many hospitals have programs that pay for all or part of the medical bills for indigent or special needs families. Each program has different criteria and restrictions. Information on such programs may not be readily available; therefore it is important to ask the hospital if it provides such a program.
  • Creditors. Delinquent medical bills may be turned over to collection agencies. Should you be contacted by a collection agency, ask that they send you in writing whom they are collecting for and how much is owed. Under federal law, and subject to certain exceptions, collection agencies may only call you between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Your wages cannot be garnished by a collection agency without court approval.
  • Organizations. The following organizations may assist you with a question or dispute concerning a bill from your health care provider. As with any service provider, you must contact them and request information about the service and if there are any fees.
    • The Access Project: This non-profit organization has a Medical Debt Resolution Program. The organization does not provide medical assistance. The Access Project will provide individuals with information on different methods to address or resolve medical debt issues.

    • Alliance of Claims Assistance Professionals: This is a non-profit organization that helps you find an individual/organization that can help with the services listed below. It is important to note that the individuals or organizations may charge you for their service.
      • Challenge denials of claims by the insurance company
      • Organize health insurance paperwork
      • Audit hospital and provider charges
      • Negotiate with providers on patient balances
      • Review medical bills and determine proper payment
      • File various types of insurance claims (medical, long term care, FSA, HSA)
      • Track claims to ensure they are accurately processed
      • Contact providers and insurance companies to resolve claim problems
      • Assist in selecting Medicare Part D drug plans and Medicare supplement plans
      • Assist with choices during employer open enrollment
      • Provide education on benefits and options
      • Negotiate providers' fees for uninsured patients or procedures

    • HealthWell Foundation: The HealthWell Foundation provides financial assistance to eligible individuals to cover coinsurance, copayments, healthcare premiums and deductibles for certain treatments. This means that if you have been prescribed a medication covered by your insurer, but you cannot afford the coinsurance or copayment required, they may pay some or all of your costs associated with the medication. Also, if you are eligible for health insurance, but cannot afford the insurance premium, they may be able to help by paying some or all of the medical portion of your insurance premium.

    • United Healthcare Children’s Foundation: The UHCCF organization provides medical cash grants of up to $5,000 to children’s families to help families in need pay for non-covered medical services, bills and expenses from their commercial health benefit plan.

    • Patient Access Network Foundation: The Patient Access Network Foundation is an independent, national 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to providing underinsured patients with co-payment assistance through 21 disease-specific funds.

    • Chronic Disease Fund: Chronic Disease Fund is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization helping patients with chronic disease, cancers or life-altering conditions obtain the expensive medications they need.  They assist patients throughout the United States who meet income qualification guidelines and/or have private insurance or a Medicare Part D plan but cannot afford the cost of their specialty therapeutics.

    • Bankruptcy. Given the potentially damaging effects of bankruptcy, this option should be considered last and only after seeking the advice of an experienced bankruptcy attorney. If you do not know a bankruptcy attorney, contact your local bar association for a referral. The Allegheny County Bar Association’s referral line is 412-261-5555 or you may visit the website at:


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Phone: 412-261-6161 - Fax: 412-261-3622
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