Last year, I found myself sitting alone in a hospital bed, pregnant with twins, with some serious health complications that jeopardized the health of the babies and myself. I was beyond stressed about keeping the three of us alive, and on top of that, I was completely weighed down by how much everything was undoubtedly costing. I’d never spent any amount of time in the hospital but had heard horror stories about not being able to afford medical debt and being sent to collections. I was terrified. Health problems that land you in a hospital bed are stressful in and of themselves. But add an enormous medical bill that you can’t afford to pay, and it can all feel completely crippling. But it doesn’t have to. The truth is, you have options when you can’t afford medical debt.
So, what happens when you can’t afford medical debt? It largely depends on what you decide to do. If you don’t pay your bill on time, it will likely get sent to collections and that will negatively impact your credit score. If you can’t afford medical debt, there are plenty of alternatives to just getting taken to collections and possibly getting a default judgment entered against you.
Here’s what to do if you can’t afford medical bills:
Check your medical bills for mistakes.
One of the first things you should do when you get a medical bill you can’t afford is to check the bill for mistakes. If you don’t understand one of the charges on your bill, be sure to call and ask. Always get an itemized bill that shows what each of your charges were. Medical billing and coding can be complex and mistakes occur frequently so it can make a big difference in how much you’ll pay. You could save thousands of dollars just by making sure that your bill is actually correct.
Communicate with the hospital and your providers if you can’t afford medical debt.
The best thing you can do when you can’t afford medical debt is to stay in communication with the billing department of your hospital and with your providers. If you let them know you are having trouble paying your bill, they will most likely work with you on a payment plan (usually at 0% interest) to help you make payments on your debt. Sending your bill to a collections agency is actually an expensive, tedious process for them that they usually want to avoid. Staying in communication with them, rather than burying your head in the sand when it comes to your bill, will likely keep your bill from being sent to collections.
Work out a payment schedule.
Once you’ve communicated that you can’t afford your medical debt, work out a payment schedule that is suitable to both of you. Your hospital’s billing department will likely be willing to work with you on a payment schedule based on what you can afford.
Stay on top of payments.
After you’ve worked out a suitable payment schedule, do your very best to stay on top of payments. You can track your progress in the Paidback app for some extra motivation. You will need to work your medical bill payments into your budget and it may require you to increase your income by working extra hours or taking on a side hustle. Do your best to stay on top of payments.
Negotiate your medical bills if you can’t afford medical debt.
Another important thing to do when you have a medical bill you can’t afford is to try to negotiate your bill. If you don’t have insurance or are underinsured, be sure to let the hospital know and ask if they can offer a discount. Many hospitals will offer a discount if you are a cash paying patient or if you can make a prompt payment. Our best tips on how to lower your hospital bill here.
How do you get medical debt forgiven?
See if you qualify for help paying your medical bills.
The best way to get medical debt forgiven is to work directly with your hospital. Depending on your income and other financial circumstances, you may qualify for help paying your medical bills. Hospitals often have financial assistance for patients who are uninsured or who are underinsured, so be sure to ask. It is also worth applying for Medicaid to see if you can get help covering your medical debt. Hospitals often have a liaison that can help you apply or screen you to see if you qualify.
Consider joining a health share ministry.
Another thing you can do if you can’t afford medical debt is to consider joining a health share ministry. Most health share ministries won’t share in the cost of your health care unless you were a member before your financial need arose. That said, they will often advise their members to donate to other members whose needs aren’t covered by the ministry. Learn more about whether a health share ministry is right for you here.
Another option if you can’t afford medical debt is to crowd fund your debt. Crowd funding can be uncomfortable but there are plenty of websites like gofundme.com or even providing friends and family with your Venmo account so they can help pay your debt.
Never use a credit card to pay off your medical bills.
One thing you should avoid doing if you can’t afford medical debt is to pay it off with a credit card. The enormous interest on credit card and the likely large balance on your medical debt can make it practically impossible to pay off if you charge it on your credit card. If you have completely exhausted all of your other options, the better path than using a credit card would be to take on a lower interest personal loan to pay off the balance of your medical debt. I highly recommend comparing multiple rates from multiple lenders to make sure you get the lowest interest rate available. Compare rates with Credible here.
Medical debt can feel extremely overwhelming– I’ve been there! If you are wondering what may happen if you can’t afford medical debt, please know that you have options. Simply ignoring your medical bills won’t make them go away– in fact, it will likely get them sent to a collections agency who will hound you for payment and could negatively impact your credit score. Instead of letting that happen to you, stay on top of your payments if you can and be sure to communicate with your hospital and providers and seek out help as you need it.
Ready to get started knocking out your medical debt? Grab our FREE guide– the Debt Payoff Starter Kit.
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