How (and Where) to Get Medical Debt Relief
Learn how to relieve the stress of burdensome medical debt.
Health care doesn’t come cheap, and even if you do have adequate health insurance, medical bills can easily pile up. In fact, one in five working-age Americans with medical insurance reports having difficulty paying their medical expenses, according to a 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation study.
Medical debt relief can help when you feel overwhelmed by the cost of paying for health care. Knowing your options can make dealing with medical bills less stressful—and potentially less harmful to your wallet.
Negotiate Medical Debt Relief
Your first option for getting medical debt relief is negotiating your outstanding medical bills. There are two main areas for negotiation: the amount owed and how you’ll repay your medical debt.
Doctors, hospitals, and medical offices ultimately prefer to be paid in full but that may not be feasible for your financial situation. One way to negotiate relief from medical debt is asking your health care provider to discount or reduce your bill. If you’re a long-time patient and you have a positive history of paying your medical bills, they may be willing to cut you a break.
Negotiating a reduced amount may also be a possibility for medical bills that have gone to collections. At this point you may be negotiating with the collection agency, rather than your health care provider, but they may be willing to agree to settle for less than what’s owed on a delinquent debt. Be aware, however, that allowing unpaid medical debts to go to collections can damage your credit score.
If your creditor isn’t willing to reduce your bill, you could try negotiating a payment plan that fits your budget. Your doctor’s office may be willing to accept even a small monthly payment amount if that’s all you can pay to avoid having the debt go to collections.
Stay in touch with your health care providers. They may be able to offer additional solutions, such as charity care or hardship programs, and keeping the lines of communication open can ensure that you don’t miss out on those types of opportunities if you need to take advantage of them.
Consolidate Medical Debt
If you have multiple medical bills to pay, consolidating them could offer some relief and make those bills easier to manage.
How you approach medical debt consolidation depends on the status of your medical bills. If you have multiple unpaid bills, you could consolidate them together using a credit card that offers a 0% APR on purchases. Look for a card that offers an introductory period that’s long enough to give you enough time to pay the balance off. Otherwise, you could get hit with interest charges on the remaining balance once the promotional period expires.
If you’ve already paid your medical bills using a credit card, you could transfer them to another card with a 0% APR. Alternately, consolidating medical debt using a personal loan is also an option.
The advantage of using a loan for medical debt relief is that you may be able to get a low fixed rate if you have good credit. Payments are set according to a fixed schedule, meaning your payoff is predictable. And, you don’t have to worry about a promotional rate expiring the way you would with a credit card.
Check your credit before applying for a credit card or personal loan for medical debt consolidation. This can help you narrow down the list of cards or loans you’re most likely to qualify for.
Qualify for Medicaid
Medicaid is designed to provide relief from medical expenses for people who are income-eligible. If you qualify, based on your income and household size, you may be able to have some or all of your medical bills paid for you—even retroactively.
Medicaid eligibility is determined at the state level. You can visit your local health department or social services agency to apply. Be prepared to show proof of income, as well as bank statements and a list of your monthly expenses during the application process. You’ll also need to bring along copies of the medical bills you need help with.
If you’re approved for Medicaid, keep in mind that you need to notify your local Medicaid agency if there are any changes to your financial situation, such as increase or decrease in your income. Failure to report those changes could result in a loss of benefits.
Finance Medical Expenses
One last option for medical debt relief is taking advantage of your medical provider’s in-house financing if offered.
This type of financing typically allows you to create a structured repayment plan, with interest. Depending on the amount you owe, you may be able to get a longer payoff time or a lower payment than you would compared with a loan.
One advantage of using medical financing is that you don’t necessarily need perfect credit to qualify. A poor credit score could make it more difficult to get a credit card or personal loan, on the other hand. The downside of medical financing is that you may pay a higher interest rate for the convenience it offers.
Medical debt can put a serious strain on your financial health and the sooner you take action to deal with it, the better. Relief from medical debt can take a number of forms and certain options may be preferable to others. When weighing medical debt relief options, remember to evaluate:
- The short- and long-term costs you may pay.
- What's needed to qualify.
- How it may impact your credit score.
- Overall affordability.