Treating and Preventing Medical Debt

dentist working on patient

[Photo Credit: iStock by Getty]

If you’re having financial difficulties because of medical expenses, you’re not alone. More and more people are having trouble with their medical bills and the debt that can come along with those bills.

Sometimes the amount of medical debt is so great that it affects the rest of their finances and makes recovery from the illness or procedure more difficult due to the lack of funds. The stress of coping with an injury or even elective surgery can be compounded by financial issues.

For those who have been affected by medical debt, one question looms large: when you need financial help with your medical bills, what should you do?

Working With Insurance

Unfortunately, even having health insurance can’t protect you completely from the financial burden medical bills can bring. According to the health division at NerdWallet, a price-comparison website, some estimates indicate that nearly 10 million adults with full health insurance accumulated medical bills they couldn’t pay off in 2013. The Kaiser Family Foundation found in a recent report on out-of-pocket spending that this debt often accumulates either from bills that aren’t covered either by plans or by what’s called the application of cost-sharing, including deductibles. (A cost sharing reduction is a discount that may lower the amount you have to pay out of your own pocket.)

For elective or non-emergency procedures, you’ll want to check with your insurance company beforehand to see what may be covered and to find out about any necessary pre-approvals. In addition to the procedure itself, you’ll need to find out if your doctor and the location are covered — depending on your health insurance provider, you may need to switch doctors or see if your doctor can perform the procedure at a different facility.

Patient Assistance Programs

If you don’t have insurance, many medical facilities have charity or discount programs you can apply to, either before planned procedures or after the fact. You may also be eligible for Medicare or Medicaid, depending on the state in which you reside. To be eligible for any of these assistance programs, you’ll need to verify your income with forms such as tax returns or pay stubs, and you may be required to complete other paperwork as well.

Loans

Outside of the hospital itself, there are other places you can go for help, such as the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) MedlinePlus website, the American Medical Association’s AMA Foundation, or organizations such as SAMFund (Surviving and Moving Forward Fund), which provides financial assistance to young-adult cancer survivors. Some charities, such as SAMFund, offer aid with the financial difficulties that can arise in other parts of your life when you’ve been focused on paying for treatment.

For private funding, an unsecured personal loan may help. Unsecured loans don’t rely on the use of an asset like a home or apartment you own, or a car you own. Another possibility, especially if you have multiple payments to multiple creditors, is a debt consolidation loan. A debt consolidation loan can be obtained unsecured — meaning at no risk to your property — and will help to lower the number of monthly payments you make. Being approved for either an unsecured personal loan or debt consolidation is easier if you already have good credit, although it’s often an option worth considering regardless of your credit score.

There are also unsecured loans available for medical procedures. These medical or surgery loans are geared toward helping to cover elective surgery, as well as certain dental procedures and medical treatments that aren’t covered by your health insurance.

Another option that become more prevalent recently is crowdfunding. Crowdfunding allows you to get financial help online through fundraising efforts. This can be a great option for many people who need smaller amounts to help offset what insurance doesn’t cover or who may have no other resources when it comes to getting the money that they need.

Confirm All Charges

When you find yourself with extensive medical bills, one of the most important things to do early on is to make sure the billing is correct. There may be mistakes or parts of the bill that you can challenge. Make sure you aren’t being charged more than necessary. If you’re using insurance or a similar payment program, ensure that you’re not billed for more than your share of the total, and confirm that the bill has been submitted to your insurance properly.

Research All Available Assistance Programs

You may be able to talk to your medical provider about what kind of payment plans they have available. Many healthcare and hospital networks have programs available that may have a plan you’ll be able to pay more easily. For example, Kaiser Permanente has a Medical Financial Assistance Program to help financially stressed patients with either subsidized or charity care.

Advance Planning

If you can, try to take action before non-emergency medical situations occur in order to limit what your expenses will be. As mentioned above, if you have medical insurance, it’s a good idea to determine your potential coverage beforehand. If you do not have insurance, assistance from a number of the charity or financial assistance programs can be arranged in advance. In some cases, medical providers won’t do non-emergency procedures without arrangements for payment already in place, so start looking into ways to help pay for upcoming procedures as soon as possible.

Comments

  1. Gisela says

    More information like this will be fantastic, hope I can drop in again and use it.