Before I get into my tips for getting help with medical debt, let me start out by saying… we’re less than ONE WEEK away from the IRS beginning to receive electronically-filed returns.
That means different things to different people in our Greater Seattle client family, but I can confidently say this to YOU, no matter your circumstance (reasserting what I wrote last week):
This is not the year to dally with your tax paperwork.
1) Based on what we’ve already written and some other communication that we’ve been undertaking here at Chapman Tax and Accounting, demand for our services is at an all-time high. So, I really do want our best Greater Seattle clients to get our best attention.
2) The IRS is significantly backlogged (still) … and if we need to make adjustments, we’ll want to be as proactive as possible on your behalf.
SO… use this to get on our calendar ASAP:
Moving along… Most of us grew up thinking we’d be in debt sometime in our lives – for a car, a house, maybe for a vacation, or an education.
But debt for visiting the doctor?
Yeah, that’s not usually pleasant to think about. Unlike those aforementioned reasons for debt, medical debt is usually racked up for something difficult or traumatic, bodily speaking of course. Still, it’s a reality most of us will have to face.
Let’s discuss how to get help with medical debt.
Christopher Chapman’s Tips on Getting Help with Medical Debt
“Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.” – Erma Bombeck
Medicine does make great progress – and it looks like what it charges makes progress, too. A recent survey found that three out of five Americans have been in debt due to medical bills, and the average burden can be almost five figures.
Sooner or later, almost all of us are going to find ourselves on the hook with our doctor (or with some hospital or some lab or some technician we’ll never even meet). What do we do then? How can we get help with medical debt?
Not all debt is created equal
Is it any real surprise when six months after that ER visit you get a pretty sheet of paper in the mail with lots of dollar signs and numbers at the bottom and your credit card logo on top?
Sure, it isn’t. But do you have to rush to pay the bill? We once heard of somebody with a longstanding medical condition who had four folders for medical bills: “Send to Insurance,” “Sent To Insurance,” “Sent To Insurance Again,” and “Sent to Insurance a Third Time.” There actually was no folder for “Pay This Bill.”
We can’t guarantee things will go that well, but here are some ways to get help with medical debt …
True, most debts that go to collections do remain on your credit report for seven years from when the bill is declared delinquent. But the exception is medical bills – specifically those that head into collections but your “friends” at the insurance company later pay.
You might catch an even bigger break with that medical debt not affecting your credit score. Check your credit reports to make sure there’s no medical debt on there.
Your next steps
Dealing with collections agencies for general debt is its own special animal – but many of the same tactics work for whittling medical debt, too.
Your first move is common sense: Make sure the bill is accurate and that they’re entitled to charge all they’re trying to wrangle out of you.
Hospitals are only human (more or less) and they can make mistakes, right? Hospitals have also been known to send bills for amounts that you’ve already paid. Sure, pay twice, and you’ll probably get your money back someday… maybe… Double Check.
While we’re on the subject, ever gotten a letter from your health insurance company labeled “This Is Not a Bill”? Keep these. They outline charges your Greater Seattle hospital might hit you for.
And hospitals have been known to try to get you to pay what’s left over after they’ve agreed to a price with your insurance company. That’s a form of “balance billing,” and it’s generally illegal. Again, check with your insurer pronto – they’ll be happy to make clear what you are and are not covered for.
A new tool in your box
By the way, now there’s a federal law called the No Surprises Act that protects folks like us from a common medical bill rip-off.
Did you know that about one in every five trips to the ER in this country produces a bill from somebody the patient never even sees or because the doctor on duty doesn’t happen to take the patient’s insurance?
No more. The No Surprises Act prohibits doctors, hospitals, and other health providers from billing you for more than you’d pay for in-network care under your current insurance plan.
They also have to send the bill right to your insurance company – saving you a big headache.
A couple more pointers:
Payment plans. Financial aid isn’t just for college students. Did you know that many hospitals can help you set up payment schedules – or even lower the bill if your financial sitch justifies it? And this aid is often interest-free if you can believe it. It never hurts to ask.
Negotiate for a lower price or ask about financial aid before you pay the bill in any way.
Watch how you pay. A big bill naturally makes most of us reach for that little plastic card. Yes, paying fast with a credit card can stop calls from collection agencies.
But hold off: Paying medical debt with a credit card means you throw away some of the protections of medical debt (since it then becomes credit card debt), and you also wind up on the hook for your card’s interest rate.
Don’t panic over medical debt. I hope I’ve made it clear that you have more options than you think. Give us a ring if we can help.
And stay healthy out there.
In your corner,