Having an unexpected health crisis is a huge problem for millions of Americans each year often leaving even the insured with medical bills they simply cannot afford to pay. For the uninsured, the situation is even worse. According to NerdWallet Health, an estimated 20% of Americans between the ages of 19 and 64 will encounter financial strain due to medical expenses this year. There may be no more frustrating situation than trying to afford health care desperately needed when a health crisis occurs.
So if you are currently facing a situation with medical expenses, what are your options? While there really is very little support for medical bills from organizations that issue grants, this does not mean that you cannot find local assistance. You may also be able to have your bill lowered through a number of methods. If you are facing medical debt that simply wipes you out financially, filling bankruptcy may be an option. If the medical situation involves a minor child, you may benefit from federal programs depending on your level of income. Here are the options you should consider when medical debt presents itself.
Scrutinize Your Bill
Medical Billing Advocates of America suggests that 80% of hospital issued bills contain some form of error. This means that it is more likely that your bill is incorrect than not. If you have received a bill that seems much higher than what was initially suggested you would have to pay, the very first thing you should do is examine all charges. You may find that you have been double billed or overcharged for services and if this is the case you can receive a reduction in the cost of your bill.
Hire a Medical Billing Advocate
If you feel you your bills contain serious errors, you may want to seek the help of a medical billing advocate. These services usually offer free consultations and work on a contingency basis to reduce your bills. While these services are not offered for free, they typically charge between 15-35% of any savings they produce in your billing. The end result can drastically reduce what you will have to pay if major mistakes have been made with your billing. Here are a few that provide advocacy services:
- Alliance of Claims Assistance Professionals
- HealthCare Advocates, Inc.
- Medical Billing Advocates of America
- Patient Advocate Foundation
Negotiate with Your Health Care Provider
Many people do not realize that you can actually negotiate with your health care provider to have your medical bills reduced. The very first thing you should do when you leave the hospital is contact them directly to inquire about grants or financial assistance they may offer before you are billed. Hospitals often provide reduced care for low-income patients that are either uninsured or under insured. If you simply cannot pay your medical bill, it is also an option to negotiate with the hospital directly. Since unpaid bills go to collection agencies the hospital must pay to collect charges, they will often lower the cost of your bill if you are willing to work out a payment plan. Having some method to pay a large lump sum payment may also result in a settlement with the hospital. Contact the billing office of the hospital where you received care to fully explore every option that may be available to you.
Consider Filling Bankruptcy
Medical bills are the number one reason many Americans file bankruptcy with around 60% of all bankruptcies filled every year due to health care costs. If you are faced with medical bills that far exceed your ability to pay, you may want to hire an attorney to discuss your options with bankruptcy. A licensed bankruptcy attorney will help you look at all of your legal options and can advise you if filling a chapter 7 or chapter 13 bankruptcy is right for you. Even if you cannot afford to hire an attorney, many state and local bar associations and law schools offer pro bono or no charge legal services to financially destitute clients. Use our resources and support listing of Bar Associations in the United States to quickly find a bar association in your area.
Seek Local Support
Don’t be afraid to seek local support when faced with large medical bills. Some state and local governments offer assistance to residents experiencing a medical crisis. And in many cases, local non-profit organizations and support groups offer help locally as well. Contact your state agency that handles federal benefit programs locally to assist you in your search for any of these programs that may be available in your area. Also, many churches maintain programs to support their congregations. If you are a member of a church, contact your pastor to inquire about any local support it may be able to offer you with your medical situation.
Children’s Health Insurance and Medicaid
If you have low-income and the medical situation your family is experiencing involves a minor child, these federally funded state programs may be able to offer you help. Every state has a Children’s Health Insurance Program or CHIP that offers free or low-cost medical insurance for minor children. Granted, this will only help you if you are covered when the medical situation arises. But in the case of Medicare, if your child is not covered at the time of the medical emergency, as long as you were eligible for coverage under the program it can be used within three months to pay retroactively for medical expenses that were incurred. Contact your state agency that handles Medicaid if this describes your situation and remember to act quickly following a child’s medical emergency. To find your local Medicaid office or CHIP provider, click on your state on the national map provided on Medicaid.gov to find local contact information for both programs.