How to Handle Medical Bills You Can’t Afford

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This post is brought to you and contributed by Amara Etter.

Many people think of bankruptcy as the result of people spending above their means on lavish vacations, large houses, expensive vehicles and fine dining.

But the truth is that about two-thirds (66.5 percent) of bankruptcies occurr because of medical expenses, either resulting from the direct cost of healthcare or because people had to take time off work due to an illness. The same research shows only 44.4 percent of bankruptcies are attributable to living beyond one’s means. This just goes to show many Americans experience financial distress because of something they have little to no control over.

Have you ever found yourself wondering how you’re going to pay off your medical bills? Here are some tips for dealing with healthcare-related expenses you can’t afford to pay out of pocket right away.

Review Your Charges Carefully

Medical bills are not always the most fun reading material. In fact, oftentimes they’re convoluted and difficult to understand. This is exactly why it’s so important to read them over rather than assuming everything must be correct simply because they came from a hospital or doctor’s office. Your medical bill may actually include an error like an overcharge — and you can only correct this costly mistake if you identify it.

Here are some steps Investopedia recommends when it comes to reviewing your medical bills:

  • Ask for an itemized breakdown of charges so you know exactly what each procedure costs.
  • Make sure you received all the services and medications listed; ask specifically about any charges you don’t recognize or understand.
  • Ask your healthcare provider and insurance company to audit your bills and correct any mistakes on their end.
  • Ask questions and develop a relationship with the finance departments, as the professionals within can help you navigate the complex process of handling your bills.

Before you start stressing over how you’re going to pay your bills, make sure the charges are accurate.

Try Negotiating Your Bill Right Away

Try negotiating down your medical bills before they become delinquent. Ask if the medical establishment in question has an assistance program — and if so, whether or not you qualify.

You can also ask for a rate reduction based on financial hardship. You may be able to work out a deal where you pay a percentage of the total original sum or work out a payment plan with low or no interest. You never know your options until you ask.

You also may be able to buy yourself some additional time to come up with funds before the hospital or doctor’s office sends your account to collections; it’s important they know you’re trying.

Explore Your Debt Relief Options

Are you already saddled with medical debt? If you’ve ever had to use a credit card to pay off a medical procedure, you know how frustrating and hopeless this cycle can feel.

Before filing for bankruptcy, explore your options. Many Americans have undergone debt settlement through Freedom Debt Relief due to overwhelming unsecured debt — like medical bills and credit card debt. Another option is to work with an NFCC-member credit counselor, who may be able to get you on a Debt Management Plan (DMP) in which the credit counseling agency distributes your monthly payment to creditors in exchange for more favorable terms.

Create an Emergency Fund

Last but not least, try to protect yourself from future medical debt by building an emergency fund slowly but surely. Even tucking away a few dollars a week can help you build up a protective buffer against debt. Having an emergency fund containing three to six months’ worth of living expenses ready to go can help you accommodate medical bills before they turn into staggering debt.

Are you facing medical bills you can’t afford out of pocket? Don’t panic. Review the charges, ask questions, negotiate and explore your options for debt relief strategies. Then focus on building an emergency fund for the future.

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