What to Do if You Have Medical Debt

The New York Times has some good advice if your medical bills are piling up:

If you get a medical bill that’s unexpectedly large, don’t ignore it — doing so may mean that the bill is sent to a collections agency, where it can dent your credit history, Ms. Donovan said. Start by asking your provider for an itemized bill, she suggested, to check that you were not mistakenly charged for services you didn’t receive.

Particularly if your insurer has denied coverage, call and ask whether the provider used the correct billing codes. “Ask, ‘What code needs to be used to have this covered?’” she said. Be polite, Ms. Donovan advised, but don’t be put off: “It’s not an unreasonable thing to ask.”

Once you have confirmed the bill is correct, contact your health care provider directly, she said, and ask if you can negotiate the amount due. Ask if the provider will accept a discount if you pay right away, or if it will accept the Medicare rate, which is typically lower than the rate charged by private insurers. “They want to actually get paid,” Ms. Donovan said, “so they may be willing to work with you.”

Be sure to ask if the hospital or clinic has a financial-assistance program. Many providers do, she said, but “they may not offer it up front.”

Barring any discount or financial help, she said, ask if the provider will accept a monthly payment plan, so you can pay the debt off over time.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also offers some excellent tips for handling medical debt on its website.