Medical debt has become a brutal reality for many Americans, regardless of their insurance status, income level, or occupation. Thousands of underinsured end up accruing debt that would take lifetimes to pay off.
It becomes a no-win situation; either they accept the debt and get treatment or forego treatment for their condition to avoid the unpayable costs and roll the dice with their health.
While any sort of effective solution for skyrocketing healthcare costs will most likely require government intervention, you can still do a few things to reduce your medical debt load. Here are a few things to try.
If you already have medical debt
If you’re already in debt because of healthcare, don’t worry; options are still available for reducing your final bill.
1. Consolidate your debt
Even though there are various alternatives to debt consolidation, using a personal loan for debt consolidation can help keep you out of collections and streamline your debt reduction. There are a number of consolidation companies that specialize in helping people with medical debt.
2. Speak with the billing department
If your medical debt is from a hospital stay, there are most likely solutions for reducing your bill right in the hospital. Reach out to the billing department and ask for an itemized bill first. Often, this can help reduce your costs right away but isn’t a guarantee as the only evidence of this working is anecdotal.
Billing departments may also have access to in-house solutions that can help reduce your debt, like payment assistance or charitable donations set aside for patients with income-based needs.
3. Negotiate with the debt collector
A large percentage of medical debt is handled by collections agencies that buy your debt at a fraction of the cost and take over the responsibility for collecting payments. Consequently, you may be able to significantly reduce the amount you owe by negotiating terms.
If you’re inclined to negotiate with them, contact an organization like the National Consumer Law Center that can give you advice and resources for dealing with collectors.
If you don’t have medical debt yet
The more proactive you are in knowing the “rules” of how healthcare costs are billed, the more likely you’ll be able to stay out of debt for the long term.
1. Re-evaluate your health insurance level
Many people will opt for the cheapest insurance level possible, thinking it’s better to pay low and bet on your health staying good for the near future. However, many bronze-tiered plans have such a high deductible that you may end up paying more than you would have if you opted for just one tier higher.
Consider the costs you have to pay for the coverage you get, even for non-urgent expenses like prescriptions and wellness checks, and compare those to higher premium plans. You might be surprised at how moving just from a Bronze to a Silver insurance plan can drastically reduce your healthcare costs.
2. Talk with your doctor about options
If you’re concerned about potential costs for your healthcare, talk with your doctor.
They may have solutions that can help you lower your medical costs, such as swapping your medications to the generic version, referring you to lower-cost clinics like Planned Parenthood or health clinics instead of private practices, and giving you actionable ideas for promoting wellness now as a preventative measure for your health as you age.
3. Utilize HSAs
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) can be a great way to save on healthcare costs because they allow you to pay for medical expenses with pre-tax dollars. You can use these funds to cover out-of-pocket costs like doctor visits and prescription drugs or to set aside money for major medical expenses down the road.
This means that the money you save goes right into your account rather than being deducted from your paycheck each month while also reducing your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), lowering your tax burden.
4. Shop around
Thanks to the internet, there are more options out there for healthcare needs. Sites like CostPlus Drugs and Amazon Pharmacy have significantly reduced pricing for many popular medications that retail pharmacies can’t beat.
Some sites like Telehealth.hhs.gov and your state’s Department of Health website can give you better information on which telehealth providers are available to treat your symptoms. Telehealth sites will typically also have upfront pricing so you know how much you’ll need to pay, and many accept major insurance plans, too.
The bottom line
Many options are available for reducing your medical debt, no matter how much debt you currently have or where that debt came from. Try some of the tips above and see if you can get on track to reducing your overall bill.