Dealing with debt from medical expenses
It is estimated that about 72 million Americans have had trouble paying their medical bills. Here are some of the ways that you and your family can address the issues of unexpected medical bills. It is very important that you address your medical bills as soon as possible. If medical bills are delinquent, they can affect your credit score. It is important that you stay in contact with the health care provider to try to work out a payment plan if possible.
Keep a detailed record of each call to the health care provider regarding your bill, who you spoke with, the date and time, and what was discussed.
- Review your bill. It is very important that you review your bill when it comes in the mail. Hospital bills often come weeks after the hospital visit and can be very long. However, it is important to check and make sure that all of the charges are on the 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. Sometimes it is worth calling the hospital or the health care provider and asking if the fee may be reduced.
- Payment plans. Often doctors and hospitals will work with patients and their families to come up with a payment plan to address the medical bills. It is important to ask if there is an interest charge. It is very important that a realistic payment is created. Make sure that the payment plan is in writing to reduce confusion in the future. Should circumstances change, ask if you may renegotiate the payment plan. Also, 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 part or all of the medical bills for indigent or special needs families. Each program has different criteria and restrictions. It is not always easy to find information on these programs. It is important to ask the hospital if it provides such a program and who you should speak to about the program.
- Creditors. Often unaddressed medical bills will be turned over to collection agencies. Should you be contacted by a collection agency, ask that they send you in writing who they are collecting for and how much is owed. Under federal law, collection agencies can only call you between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Your wages can not be garnished by a collection agency unless they take you court and bring an action again you.
- Organizations. The following organizations may help advise you on a bill from your health care provider. As with any service, contact them and request information about the service and if there are any fees, and if possible do research online.
- The Access Project (www.accessproject.org) 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 ways to handle medical debt.
- Alliance of Claims Assistance Professionals (www.claims.org) 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. Some of the services addressed:
- 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 (www.healthwellfoundation.org) 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’ve been prescribed a medication and your insurer covers it, but you cannot afford the coinsurance or copayment required, they may be able to help by paying 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 (http://www.uhccf.org/) 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 (https://www.panfoundation.org/) The Patient Access Network Foundation is an independent, national 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to providing underinsured patients with copayment assistance through 21 disease-specific funds that give them access to the treatments they need.
- Chronic Disease Fund (http://cdfund.org) 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. This is the last option to be considered. There are quite a few things to consider before you proceed with this option. It is very important that you speak with a bankruptcy attorney to obtain important information about bankruptcy. If you do not know a bankruptcy attorney, contact your local bar association for a referral. You may contact the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555 or www.acbalrs.org