Thursday, April 5, 2018

What Happens if You Can’t Pay Your Medical Bills



The cost of healthcare continues to rise, vastly outpacing the rate of inflation. For this reason, it isn’t surprising that people who end up in the hospital or a doctor’s waiting room frequently have trouble paying their bills, especially when they have no health insurance.

Nevertheless, you do have options. Follow these tips for handling sky-high medical bills so that you can relieve stress and focus on recovering your health.

Find Mistakes on the Bill


Many medical bills have errors on them, so you should carefully scrutinize each item on the bill. Make sure that each service or item on the bill isn’t there by mistake. For example, many patients are wrongly charged for the following:

  • Medication they didn’t receive
  • Supplies that weren’t provided
  • Treatments that weren’t ordered
  • Meals that were not served

There may also be duplicate charges on the bill for a single procedure, such as being double-billed for an MRI or X-ray. Sometimes, patients need to have a test or procedure done twice because the technician made a mistake, but you shouldn’t have to pay for it.

You can dispute mistakes with the medical provider by writing a letter. Identify each item that you believe appears on the bill by mistake and ask the provider to remove it. Remember to include a copy of your bill (not the original) and highlight whichever service or item you believe has been included in error.

Check if You Qualify for Assistance Programs


Many assistance programs exist for low-income patients to help them with medical expenses. These programs will compare your income to the federal poverty rate to see whether you qualify. For example, you might qualify for:

  • Government assistance
  • Charitable assistance
  • Help from the hospital itself

To find out more about what programs are available and their eligibility requirements, you can ask the hospital’s patient liaison, if there is one. Alternately, you can search online. Visit this government website for information on how to handle medical bills.

The application process for each program is different, but most will want information on your current income and expenses, so find the following information and documentation:

  • Recent pay stubs or proof of self-employment income
  • Bills for fixed expenses like rent/mortgage and car payments
  • Recent bank statements that show how much you have saved, if anything

Keep this information handy since it can speed up the application process and reduce the number of errors you make. After submitting your application, always ask how long it will take before you hear back about a decision and call if you haven’t heard anything.

Negotiate With the Medical Provider


Doctors and other healthcare providers are running a business, so don’t be afraid to negotiate with them. If you don’t pay your bill, they will send the account to collections, but they probably would prefer that you pay at least some of the bill and spare them the hassle. For this reason, some doctors might be open to accepting less than the full amount charged.

Before negotiating, figure out how much you can afford to pay each month and how much money you currently have available. Create a budget and eliminate any unnecessary expenses that you can live without. Identify how much money is left over that you can contribute to your debt.

Begin negotiating by calling the provider’s billing department and acknowledging that you have received the bills. Explain briefly why you can’t pay. For example, your illness might prevent you from returning to work or you or your spouse might have lost a job. Be prepared to back up your claims with documented proof, such as a termination notice.

After explaining your financial difficulties, tell the billing department how much you can afford to pay each month. They might be willing to put you on a payment plan, preferably one that is interest-free. If you have a lump sum of money—say, 80% of your medical bill—they also might be willing to accept that amount and write off the rest. Remember that it never hurts to ask, and most hospitals have dealt with financially-distressed patients before, so they should have processes in place for considering your request.

Avoid Paying With a Credit Card


Some healthcare providers might recommend you pay with a credit card. That is a great deal for them, because they get paid and then your credit card issuer gets to deal with your inability to pay off the bill. However, you should carefully weigh whether this is a good idea in your situation. In particular, credit cards might charge more in interest than a hospital or doctor, so it probably does not make financial sense.

Negotiate With the Collection Agency


If your medical debt gets sold to a collection agency, you have another opportunity to negotiate. Just as you did with the medical provider’s billing department, explain your financial situation and identify how much you can afford each month. The collection agency might not care, and they might threaten to sue you, but realize you have options (such as bankruptcy).

Consider Bankruptcy


A Chapter 7 bankruptcy can discharge unsecured debts, such as medical debt. You can file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy if you meet the income test. From start to finish, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy takes a few months. Although your credit score will be damaged, you can obtain a fresh financial start and swiftly begin building your credit back up.

Speak with a Clearwater, Florida Personal Injury Lawyer


Depending on the circumstances, you might be able to bring a lawsuit and recover costs of your injuries if someone else’s negligence caused contributed to your injuries. At Dolman Law Group, we help clients injured in car accidents, trucking accidents, slip and falls, and medical negligence cases. Our dedicated team of personal injury lawyers will fight for compensation to pay for medical expenses and replace lost wages. Contact us today for a free consultation by calling 727-451-6900 or filling out our contact form.

Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765
727-451-6900