Tips for Managing Medical Debt

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Medical bills can seem overwhelming, but there are things consumers can do to try to lessen the burden. Following are tips from experts.

· Promptly review your bills. Make sure you're not being billed twice for the same thing or paying a charge that should be covered by insurance. Billing errors are common, and patients are often stuck with charges that are not their responsibility.

· Make sure you've exhausted all payment sources including insurance from current or former employers or a former spouse's policy. If your income is low, you may be eligible for charity care. Some hospital patients are not told they qualify until they ask.

· If you don't qualify, request a discount, such as the fee Medicare or Medicaid pays. This may be 50 percent lower than the "sticker" price uninsured patients are charged. Many doctors and hospitals will negotiate and set up payment plans, sometimes with no interest.

· Avoid using a credit card and do not mortgage your house to pay medical bills. Charging expenses to a credit card means you lose the ability to negotiate with a provider. Obtaining a second mortgage to pay medical bills could result in foreclosure if you fall behind.

· Never ignore medical bills or assume they will go away. They won't, and failing to deal with them is likely to make matters worse.

Other resources include:

The Access Project, 617-654-9911

National Consumer Law Center, 617-542-8010

National Endowment for Financial Education, 303-741-6333

Tenants and Workers United, 703-684-5697, Ext. 304

-- Sandra G. Boodman

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