Ways to Get Help Paying Medical Bills
Need help with your medical bills? Here’s what you should know and where you can find help when facing medical expenses
When you or a loved one is sick, the last thing you want to worry about is money. But unfortunately, illness and expense often go hand in hand. And medical bills can be a source of stress and financial hardship.
If the coronavirus situation has already left you without health insurance or struggling to make ends meet, a medical bill could hit especially hard. And because an accident or illness often happens quickly and unexpectedly, it can leave you with no time to prepare. But whether you’re dealing with COVID-19 or something else, there may be resources available to help you pay your medical bills.
Getting Help During the Coronavirus Crisis
First, if you have COVID-19 or suspect you might have it, there are programs in place to help you receive affordable care.
Federal laws like the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act intend to provide more access to COVID-19 testing, treatment and sick leave. Your state may also offer additional support or assistance.
Health insurance providers are stepping in with different types of assistance, too. A list of providers published by America’s Health Insurance Plans lets you check what each provider is offering.
Examining and Understanding Medical Bills
A good first step to receiving help with your medical payments is to take a close look at what your bill says you owe.
Check for Errors
To check for mistakes, go through your bill line by line and look for any duplicate charges or other charges that do not appear to be correct. You can also compare your medical bill against your insurer’s explanation of benefits statement and the record of your treatment to make sure it all matches up. Call your insurance company if you need anything explained or if you want to question any charges.
Be Aware of Surprise Medical Billing
In an emergency, you could unwittingly end up in a hospital or with a doctor outside your insurance network. If that’s the case, your insurance may not cover the costs and fees you might normally expect it to. And you could be billed for the difference. This is often called surprise medical billing.
Some states have laws or are considering legislation to offer some protection to patients from surprise medical billing.
If you think you’ve received a surprise medical bill, start by contacting your insurance company. You can also research which protections your state offers.
Making It Easier to Pay Your Medical Bill
It might seem as though your medical bill is final once you receive it, but that might not strictly be the case. You may be able to negotiate a lower rate and flexible payment terms—or you may be able to seek assistance with your bills.
Work With the Hospital or Health Care Provider to Get Medical Bills Reduced
There are a number of ways you might be able to work with hospitals or health care providers to reduce your bill. Here are three to consider:
- Negotiate a discount. Educate yourself about how much other local providers charge for the same service by calling around, asking your insurer or comparing prices online. If you’re being charged more, you can try requesting a price reduction. If you’re uninsured, you could try inquiring what the fee would be if you were an insured patient—and then asking to pay that amount. Some providers might also give you a discount if you’re able to pay a medical bill in full.
- Ask for a payment plan. Some medical providers offer payment plans, breaking a large medical bill into smaller payments over a number of months. Just make sure you ask whether there are any additional charges associated with the plan and request a written confirmation of the terms your provider agrees to.
- Request medical bill forgiveness or assistance. If you’re uninsured or experiencing hardship, ask whether your hospital has an assistance or “charity care” program that can cover or reduce medical bills. Keep in mind, you might need to show tax returns and other documentation to prove your hardship.
Get Help From Other Organizations
If you’re having trouble paying medical bills, there are public programs, private foundations and other organizations that may be able to help. These groups might provide information or financial assistance with your medical bills or prescriptions.
The following are just a few organizations you can start with. But check online and with your health care provider to see whether there are other charities or nonprofits, either national or local, that could help you too.
Groups That Can Offer Information to Help With Your Medical Bill Payments
- Benefits.gov can connect you with government benefits you might be entitled to, including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicare.
- The State Health Insurance Assistance Programs site may be able to help you find assistance available in your area.
Organizations That Provide Financial Assistance for Underinsured or Uninsured Patients
- The American Breast Cancer Foundation helps with screenings and treatment for the underinsured or uninsured.
- The HealthWell Foundation helps underinsured patients with chronic or life-altering diseases.
- The Patient Access Network (PAN) Foundation helps underinsured people pay for and get access to medications and treatments.
- The UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation awards medical grants to children with medical needs not covered or not fully covered by their commercial health insurance plan.
Disease-specific Organizations if You’re Struggling to Pay for Medical Bills or Medications
- The Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Relief Grant program offers home care grants for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.
- The American Kidney Fund helps with treatment-related expenses for patients with kidney failure.
- The CancerCare Co-Payment Assistance Foundation provides financial and co-payment assistance to cancer sufferers.
- The Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research provides limited financial assistance to qualifying individuals with pancreatic cancer who are eligible for Medicaid.
- Jamie’s Heart Foundation provides financial assistance to children with congenital heart disease.
- The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society provides resources and support to those affected by blood cancers.
- The myAbbVie Assist program helps diabetes patients pay for AbbVie prescription medications.
Frequently Asked Questions About Medical Bills
Once you know the final amount of your medical bill—and where to look for additional help—you might still have questions about when and how to pay. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about paying medical bills:
How Long Do I Have to Pay Medical Bills?
Situations vary. If the due date isn’t clear from the bill, call your insurer or health provider and ask.
If you don’t pay your bill or arrange a payment plan in time, you run the risk of having your bill turned over to a collection agency.
What Is the Minimum Monthly Payment on Medical Bills?
There is no standard minimum monthly payment on a medical bill. But you may be able to arrange a payment plan in which you and your provider agree on a schedule for payments.
Should I Use a Personal Loan for Medical Bills?
A personal loan could provide quick access to funds in a medical emergency. But if you do take out a personal loan, make sure you understand all the terms, including interest, fees and penalties for missing payments. By taking out a personal loan, you could end up owing more in the end because of interest.
What Happens if I Don’t Pay My Medical Bill?
If you don’t pay your medical bill on time, your provider’s medical billing department might turn your debt over to a collection agency. But when this might happen depends on the provider. Ultimately, if you continue to miss your bill payments, your credit score could be affected.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has suggestions if you want to try to negotiate payment terms with a debt collector.
Do Medical Bills Affect My Credit Score?
Once a medical provider turns your debt over to a collection agency, the CFPB says it’s likely to hurt your credit score. And the debt can stay on your credit report for up to seven years.
On a brighter note, the three main credit bureaus now give a grace period of 180 days between receiving the debt report and adding it to your credit reports, giving you a little more time to pay it back before the medical debt affects your score. But remember, you’re still responsible for paying what’s owed.
If you’re worried about how medical debt is affecting your credit score, you can get a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every 12 months. Because of COVID-19, the credit reporting agencies allow you to get free weekly reports online until the end of April 2021.
And with CreditWise® from Capital One® you can access your free TransUnion® credit report and weekly VantageScore® 3.0 credit score anytime without negatively impacting your score. CreditWise is free and available to everyone—not just Capital One customers.
Reducing Your Medical Debt
Accidents and illness, unfortunately, are an unavoidable part of life—and so are the expenses that come with them. While no one wants to find themselves sick or in debt, there are options you can explore to get help and reduce your medical bills.
Government and private relief efforts vary by location and may have changed since this article was published. Consult a financial adviser or the relevant government agencies and private lenders for the most current information.
We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.
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