Even before COVID, expensive healthcare costs had many Americans wondering what happens if you don’t pay medical bills. If you’re struggling with medical bill debt, from emergency hospital stays or simply as a result of regularly scheduled doctor’s office visits, whether those bills are COVID-related or not, there may be long lasting damage’s from not paying them off. But, there are ways to reduce the burden and keep your good credit intact.
What Happens If You Don’t Pay Medical Bills
According to a 2020 survey, almost a third of working Americans are currently carrying balances from prior healthcare costs, and 28% of them still have medical bill debt of over $10,000.
And here’s what happens if you don’t pay medical bills: phone calls and letters. That may not sound extreme, but once your medical bill debt is sold off to collection agencies, you could have dozens of phone calls which start soft but eventually get more aggressive, trying everything to get you to pay off your debt. Later, if you are still unable to make payments, the collectors might try to sue you in an effort to garnish wages or put a lien on your property. In short, your debt never dies and while the calls and threats may someday fade, your credit will likely show the scars of your unpaid bills and a lower credit score could impact your ability to buy a home (or get the best interest rates on) cars and other large purchases on credit in the future.
Reducing Your Medical Bill Debt
There are several ways you may be able to reduce your medical bill debt. Each method will take time and energy, along with a fair bit of persistence, but could potentially save you money and/or make your medical bills more manageable.
Review Your Bills and Ask Questions
Don’t assume your healthcare bills are accurate! Many medical bills contain errors, like duplicate billing for the same service and unreasonable charges with ambiguous titles that make it difficult for a patient to understand. While you may be receiving similar bills from different providers for past procedures, spending time reviewing all of your medical bill debt and asking questions about line-item charges you do not recognize or understand may save you a significant amount of money.
Consult the Bluebook Value
It may come as a surprise that every medical procedure has a Bluebook value, just like a vehicle. These values are the amounts that each doctor and hospital will accept as payment for a medical procedure, test or other service — only, this amount can and does vary! For example, a hospital may charge one price to one insurance company but bill a different insurance company twice the price for the exact same procedure, all while patients with no insurance could end up with sticker shock by paying even more. This only serves to increase medical bill debt, so check the cost and get ready to make some phone calls.
Negotiate Your Medical Bill Debt
If you can afford to pay off your medical bill debt quickly after a doctor’s office visit or procedure, ask for a prompt pay discount. This simple question could save you a healthy percentage off your bill. If you cannot, avoid discovering what happens if you don’t pay medical bills by explaining to the hospital or doctor’s office that you will need a discount and financial assistance if they would like to collect the money you owe them. They may ask for tax returns and other financial statements, but negotiating your medical bill debt could see a portion of the debt written off and/or get you set up with a more-manageable, low or no-interest payment plan.
Use Your Home Equity to Pay Off Medical Bill Debt
If you’ve put some or all of your medical bill debt onto credit cards which transformed a no-interest bill situation into potentially high interest debt, you may want to consider using the equity you’ve built up in your home to pay off medical bills. A home equity loan or HELOC could make your medical bill debt more manageable and more affordable.
Consolidate Your Debt
One other option to pay off your medical debt bills is to take a personal loan for debt consolidation purposes. This will allow you to manage just a single monthly bill instead of numerous letters, notices and medical bills from hospitals, doctors and collection agencies. Do check that the interest rate on the loan does not exceed those potentially being charged by your original creditors.
No matter how you choose to help pay down your healthcare costs, it’s best to attempt to do so, to avoid a potentially negative impact on your long term financial health.
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