How to Handle Hospital Bills
Even with insurance, a serious illness or injury can leave you struggling to handle your medical bills. If you are uninsured, the financial worries over medical expenses can be horrific. There are options available that can ease some of these concerns, and medical billing is often one of the easiest creditors to work with in terms of payment arrangements.
If you are uninsured, ask to speak to the hospital social worker before you check out. You may qualify for state health insurance if you are uninsured and low income, and if so, it can be applied for a short period retroactively in many states. Some hospitals also offer reduced costs on a sliding scale or other forms of financial assistance. Take the time to learn what is available before you leave the hospital if you are well enough to do so. If not, ask a friend or family member to collect necessary paperwork and information from the hospital social worker. These programs are typically only available in cases of extreme financial need and may not eliminate all bills or costs, even if you do qualify.
Expect multiple bills to arrive. You will often be billed separately for hospital costs, pharmacy costs and doctor's visits. Make a call and ask the hospital to merge all of your billing accounts if at all possible. This will prevent you from overlooking bills and allow you to keep your medical bills in order. While many hospitals do not announce it, you can make payments on your hospital bills over time. Typically, there is some grace period without interest charges, then a very low rate of interest will apply. If you are insured and paying off a deductible or believe you can pay off your debts in a reasonable period, phone the billing department and set up a payment arrangement. Note in your own records the current total, when you will have it paid off, and the monthly payment amount.
Sometimes your medical expenses will exceed what you can, in any reasonable way, expect to be able to pay. In this case, you have a few options. You can arrange with the biller to make the smallest possible payment and just keep paying with no actual expectation of full repayment. While the debt is not good for your credit score, regular payments will keep damage to a minimum. You may also be able to settle the debt for a lower sum if you can pull together a significant lump sum payment. Finally, if you have substantial medical debt and no viable alternatives, you may wish to consult with a bankruptcy attorney. While bankruptcy laws are stricter than they once were, this is a situation in which it is often both a legally acceptable and often necessary solution.