5 Tips for Managing Your Medical Bills
In what is turning out to be the worst recession since the Great Depression, many Americans are struggling to pay their bills as companies continue to shed jobs and the economy continues to contract.
In this recession, costly expenses like medical bills are taking a backseat to daily expenses like water, electricity, food, car, and mortgage payments. Now, as with credit cards, consumers are struggling to keep up with their medical bills and increasingly letting more and more of their bills go unpaid.
The Commonwealth Fund, a healthcare research foundation, reports that in 2007, 41 percent of adults were struggling to pay their healthcare bills, up from 34 percent in 2005 (â€śWhen Medical Bills Outpace Your Means, Seize Control Swiftly,â€ť The New York Times, April 25, 2009). And itâ€™s not just the uninsured who have fallen behind on their payments, nearly two-thirds of people with medical debt actually have health insurance.
Experts say, however, that there are ways to manage your medical debt even if you arenâ€™t capable of paying it off right away.
1. Communicate with your creditor.
If you know youâ€™re going to be late on one or more of your medical bills, let your creditors know. Just talking with them wonâ€™t obligate you to make a payment, but if your creditor is aware that youâ€™re trying to stay on top of your debt you may be able to avoid collections, at least temporarily, and protect your credit.
2. Review your bills.
Keep a running tab of your doctor visits and medical procedures to accurately review your bills when they come in. Errors in medical billing can occur often, so if you find a discrepancy call your provider for an explanation. And remember that it can never hurt to resubmit bills to your insurer if youâ€™ve been denied coverage.
3. Bring in extra help.
Try negotiating with your provider for a discount or for some leeway on repayment. If your creditor still wonâ€™t work with you, consider hiring a billing specialist who may be able to help you find errors in your medical bills and better understand the often-complex language of medical billing.
4. Avoid the plastic.
Donâ€™t react with panic when you receive a late-payment notice by transferring your medical bill debt onto your credit card. Chances are if you canâ€™t pay your medical bill now, youâ€™re not going to be able to pay the credit card bill when it comes in later. And medical bill charges that stay on your credit card will immediately start earning interest, not to mention that charging a large sum to your credit card could negatively affect your credit score, if youâ€™re carrying too high a debt load.
5. Know your rights.
Just because a medical bill goes to collections, doesnâ€™t mean creditors have free rein to hassle you into paying; they have guidelines and rules to abide by â€” they can only call between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. and they canâ€™t scare you into paying the debt. Ask for the callerâ€™s name and request that they send you the name of the creditor and the amount you owe in writing. Visit the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse for a guide to debt collection.
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