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Steps to combat medical debt

Good health is important; just ask someone who no longer has it. So, when a Tennessean has to go to the hospital, they go and then they figure out how to handle the aftermath. This pattern of a health problem followed by a financial one happens again and again. Indeed, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as of 2014, nearly 45 million consumers have medical debt that is in collection.

Some of that debt is unavoidable while others can be limited or even eliminated. The first step is to scour all medical bills. Check the provider, review the date of service, ask for an itemized bill providing the price of each service. That information can provide avenues for obtaining a discount.

Keep on top of what insurance covers-and what it does not. And make sure all of the information is current. Simple mistakes now can cause major headaches down the line, including headaches that may allow the insurer to sidestep expenses it should have paid.

Try to negotiate. Often hospitals will work with you, either because they are nice or because they won't have to send the bill to a collection agency (which takes a cut of whatever is recovered).

Ask about financial aid. Many clinics and hospitals have programs, often called "charity care," for those who genuinely cannot pay their bill.

Avoid using plastic. Putting a medical bill on a credit card causes two problems. First, the credit card will charge far greater interest than the hospital likely would. And, second, the debt will look like regular debt to other creditors.

These recommendations offer a good roadmap for minimizing the financial harm of expensive medical debt. But no recommendation can undo the financial misery that some medical bills can produce. In these cases, a more drastic remedy may be necessary: filing for bankruptcy. To find out whether that route might be best for them, Tennesseans may benefit from discussing their case with an experienced bankruptcy attorney.

Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "Consumer Advisory: 7 ways to keep medical debt in check," Gail Hillebrand, Dec. 11, 2014

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Mark T. Young & Associates
2895 Northpoint Blvd.
Hixson, TN 37343

Toll Free: 888-376-0282
Phone: 423-933-1606
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