The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends the following seven steps for keeping medical debt in check.
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1. Review medical bills carefully
If you don’t recognize the provider, check the date of service to see if you had a medical treatment on that day. For more complicated procedures, ask for an itemized bill from the provider in order to check how much you were charged for each service. Some providers who bill you directly may have been associated with a hospital where you were treated, so you may not have known you were receiving services from them at the time you were being treated.
2. Get documentation
Prepare an organized record of all bills. If you need to dispute a bill, send a written notice to the provider and include a copy of all relevant documents, such as records from doctors’ offices or credit card statements. Do not send original documents.
3. Check your health insurance policy and make sure your provider has your correct insurance info
You should know what your insurance covers, and what it doesn’t – but first your insurance information needs to be up-to-date and accurate! A small mix up can lead to big bills for expenses that your insurance should have covered.
4. Act quickly to resolve or dispute the medical bills that you receive
If you have verified you owe the bill, try to resolve it right away. Verify whether an insurer is paying for all or part of a bill. If you delay the bill and let it end up in collections, it can have a significant impact on your credit score. If you don’t owe the bill, act quickly to dispute it.
5. Negotiate your bill
Hospitals may negotiate the amount of the bill with you. The tab may be reduced if you pay the whole amount up front. You can also try asking for the rate that people who have insurance get. The hospital might also offer a plan that enables you to pay off the debt in installments at no interest. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
6. Get financial assistance or support
Many hospitals have financial assistance programs, which may be called “charity care,” if you are unable to pay your bill. Check the deadlines, which can vary.
7. Don’t put medical bills on your credit card, if you can’t pay it
If you can’t immediately pay off a high debt on your credit card bill, you will be charged high interest, and it will look like regular debt to other creditors. Instead, ask your medical provider for a payment plan with little or no interest.
If you’re already in medical debt, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also offers resources for dealing with debt collectors.
For information on what to do when a debt collector contacts you, click here.
For information on the best way to negotiate a settlement, click here.
For what to do if a debt collector sues you, click here.