Dealing with medical debt
Knowing this, you can take certain steps to prevent it from happening or to deal with it once it does. But it requires some steps. Some expert advice:
1. Take preventive measures
Your first line of defense is to make sure medical bills don’t land on your credit report in the first place. So while it may be human nature to sit and wait while medical bills crawl through the system, the best strategy is to communicate, communicate, communicate.
This means proactively reaching out to your doctor and insurer to see where a bill stands, if any decisions have been made, what the patient’s liability is and when it’s due. If an invoice is legit and you can get the right amount to the right people by the due date, great. If something is wrong and needs to be fixed, you can start the timer on this process as soon as possible.
By the way, if you work for a mid-size or large employer, chances are the company has specialized “health care advocates” to help guide you through the health care maze. , so be sure to take advantage of their expertise.
2. Get creative with payment plans
The harsh reality may be that you just aren’t financially able to handle a big medical bill right now. But don’t just throw up your arms and do nothing.
A first step is to negotiate with the provider, as many of them are surprisingly receptive to offering discounted rates if it means they get some of their money back instead of pennies on the dollar. Another option is to develop a plan for paying small payments over long periods of time. If you arrange such a plan and make these payments regularly, nothing will be reported to the credit agencies.
3. Dispute Errors
Inaccurate information on your credit report is much more common than you might think. To avoid this at the pass, be sure to check your credit report. Federal law allows you to view your reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies for free once a year, at AnnualCreditReport.com. You may also access and update in other ways, such as through your bank.
If you notice any discrepancies in your credit reports, mechanisms are in place to dispute them with the individual agencies. You may also need to contact the person who reported the inaccurate information, such as the doctor’s office or collection agency.
4. Know your rights
Debt collection agencies are notoriously aggressive, but there are laws about what they can and cannot do. Don’t be intimidated or intimidated into paying what you think is an incorrect or inflated amount. The Federal Trade Commission has compiled some consumer advice on dealing with debt collectors. And the recently adopted No Surprises law incorporates new protections for consumers for issues such as emergency and non-emergency off-grid services that turn out to cost far beyond what was expected or agreed upon.
5. Keep records
Since the entire healthcare billing system is so opaque, your best defense is to be thorough in creating a paper trail. When Beverly Harzog has a medical billing problem, for example, she keeps copies of the original bill; writes down all telephone interactions with providers and insurers, such as who she spoke to and at what time; and files all updates on coverage decisions and appeals. This way, she is always armed for battle.
“You don’t want to wait for that notice that your payment is overdue,” she says. “As soon as you see something, jump on it right away before it starts to get out of control.”