Medical debt can happen to anyone.
One day, you’re in perfect health, the next you’ve been severely injured or have become ill enough that you end up in the hospital. While health insurance covers some medical expenses, it often doesn’t cover all of them. The 2012 National Health Interview Survey found that about 25 percent of households had some amount of medical debt. Combine your medical debt with any credit card debt you have and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are ways to manage medical debt and credit card debt that will help you get back on your financial feet.
Review Your Bill
One of the first things to do when managing medical debt is to take a close look at your bill. The hospital or doctor’s office will send you an itemized bill, which lists each charge separately, if you ask. Getting an itemized bill will help you better see what services you are being charged for and can make it easier to spot overcharges or mistakes, which aren’t uncommon. Take a look at your bill and don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call the hospital if you notice anything that seems off or that is confusing.
It’s also worth noting that a number of states have laws in place to protect you from unduly high medical bills. For example, in 2014, New York state passed a law that limits the amount hospitals or doctors can “balance bill” patients when insurance won’t provide full coverage for a service. Knowing the basic laws in your state can help you understand what you are responsible for and what charges you aren’t responsible for.
Connect with the Hospital
While it can be difficult to negotiate with a credit card company, in some cases, hospitals or doctors are a little more willing to work with you to help you pay your debt or to come up with a solution. Many hospitals have charity programs or programs in place designed to help people whose income is below a certain amount pay for their bills. It’s also possible that your hospital will agree to let you pay your bill in installments. Some also offer steep discounts to patients who can pay quickly.
Work with a Credit Counselor
Even with a payment plan or assistance from the hospital, you might find it challenging to manage medical debt and credit card debt. Help is available if you are beginning to find your debts overwhelming. Meeting with a non-profit credit counselor can help you figure out the best course of action to take. For example, you might find that creating a budget helps you make sense of what you owe each month compared to what you earn. A counselor can also help you set financial goals, such as committing to paying off your credit card and committing to paying down your medical bills within a set amount of time.
If needed, a counselor can also help you enroll in a debt management plan. Under such a plan, you make a single monthly payment, which is then divided up among your creditors. It’s similar to working directly with the hospital to come up with a plan, but instead of going it alone, you have a dependable counselor on your side.
Medical debt and credit card debt don’t have to take over your life or define who you are. Taking steps to manage and pay down your debts can help you create a brighter financial future.
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Consumer Education Services, Inc. empowers people to overcome their financial challenges and lead financially-healthy lives.
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