What Happens If I Can’t Pay My Medical Bills

It’s not uncommon to receive a medical bill you can’t afford to pay. Whether you experienced a sudden emergency or you’ve got a chronic health issue that has racked up high expenses, medical bills can cause you a great deal of stress. Here’s what to expect when you can’t afford to pay your medical bills — and some strategies to help you take care of them.

Consequences of Nonpayment

You already know that it’s important to pay your medical bills on time so you won’t get behind, but with skyrocketing medical expenses, that’s not always possible. Still, you can’t afford to ignore them. If you delay a payment — or fail to establish a payment arrangement — for too long, the bill may be handed over to a collection agency.

The amount of time it takes for your debt to go to collections will vary depending on your healthcare provider or the service you received. However, once your debt has been transferred to a collection agency, you can expect constant reminders from debt collectors, who will call, email, and text until you’ve paid your bill.

Additionally, having a bill transferred to a collections agency may negatively affect your credit score, and debts from collections agencies remain on your credit report for up to seven years. The collector may even file a lawsuit against you if you’ve gone too long without payment.

Helpful Ways to Manage Your Medical Debt

If you’ve received a medical bill that’s beyond your financial means, you’re not alone. According to the Federal Reserve, the credit scores of two in five Americans are negatively affected by medical bills. But it’s important to know that you have plenty of options to help you tackle that overwhelming debt — here’s how.

  • Research your bill. To make sure you haven’t been overcharged for a treatment or procedure, consult the Healthcare Blue Book. If you were charged significantly more than what other healthcare providers or hospitals in your area charge, you can argue for a fair reduction to your bill.

  • Call the hospital billing office. Unlike credit cards or auto loans, medical bills have some room for negotiation. Many hospitals will discount the balance by 10% if you pay in full, so offer to do so in exchange for a reduced rate if it’s possible for your budget.

  • Negotiate with your debt collector. If your bill has been turned over to a collections agency, you’ll most likely hear from them on a daily basis until you’ve made payment. The good news, however, is that although debt collectors prefer to have the payment made in full, they’re sometimes willing to negotiate. Debt collectors are known to be pushy, so make sure you’re firm with the payment you can afford. It’s not a guaranteed solution, but it’s a common practice, and therefore worth a try.

  • Get a medical credit card. Medical providers offer specialized credit cards to help pay for certain expenses. Some may cover only in-hospital services or emergency surgeries, while others are limited to elective or cosmetic procedures. Typically, you apply for a medical credit card at your hospital or provider’s office or online. Not all card applications include a credit check, but it’s important to be prepared for one.

  • Set up a monthly payment plan. If you’ve got a bit more financial wiggle room, a monthly payment plan is a wiser choice than paying with a credit card, since medical bills don’t charge interest; but be prepared, because they may include a late fee. Even if you can only afford a fraction of the bill each month, this may prevent it from being turned over to a collection agency.

  • Research assistance programs. Many providers and hospitals offer financial assistance, often through Medicaid. You can also look to Benefits.gov and USA.gov to see if you qualify for additional government benefits. Next, check for financial assistance programs in your state via the State Health Insurance Assistant Programs site and see what’s offered in your area.

Medical debt can feel incredibly overwhelming, especially when you’re already dealing with stress from procedures or treatments that caused them. If you or a family member have experienced an injury or medical expense due to the negligence of another person, you need help advocating for your rights from experienced professionals. Here at the Lopez Law Group, we fight tirelessly to champion for the needs of our clients. Contact us today, and we’ll help you alleviate the financial strain of your medical bills so they won’t interfere with your health or recovery.