If you’re struggling to pay your medical bills, you’re not alone. Premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs for healthcare have been on the rise for years. While the number varies across studies, the portion of bankruptcies attributed to medical debt may be upwards of 62%.1
High, unexpected medical bills can be difficult to pay off, and people often can’t work while they’re undergoing treatment or recovering after a medical event. This snowball-like effect places individuals in uncomfortable financial situations.
The good news, however, is that there are many ways to reduce bills and obtain assistance paying them. The first step in figuring out how to get help with medical bills is to understand your options.
What Happens When You Can’t Pay a Hospital Bill?
No one ever plans to get sick or injured. Unfortunately, abrupt health care needs are one of life’s inevitabilities.
When the unexpected happens, hospital bills can quickly overwhelm even the most diligent budgeter. And for those without adequate health insurance coverage or with high deductibles, a single day of hospital care can cost thousands of dollars, leaving you scrambling to find out how to get help with medical bills.
So what happens if you can’t pay medical bills?
There’s a typical billing process that hospitals pursue:
- Call and contact you by mail
- Apply late charges or fees
- Send you overdue notices, sometimes for up to six months
- Send a final notice
- Refuse to treat you as a patient in the future
- Submit overdue debt to a collection agency even if you’re still paying it off
So, does medical debt affect credit score? This marks a difficult point in the medical bill journey. At this time, the collection agency may:
- Send a letter with a deadline to either pay or contest the debt
- Contact you by phone to request payment
- Continue sending letters, including full treatment details if you contest the debt
- Report the unpaid debt on your credit history, resulting in a lower credit score
- Potentially take you to court to settle the debt
- Garnish your wages or place a lien on your home
How to Get Assistance With Medical Bills
There are several ways to get assistance with high medical bills, including applying for aid, negotiating with providers, and leveraging your assets.
#1 Work With Your Medical Insurance
If you’ve had complex medical care and multiple providers, working with your insurer is going to be a slog—but it can be worth it. With them, review all of your bills and your explanation of benefits (EOB) statements carefully.
Match up names and dates, check on amounts (especially for recurring expenses), and ensure you understand the explanation notes when claims are denied or costs are categorized as your responsibility.
After coalescing information from both your insurance company and your healthcare provider’s billing department, you may be able to reduce your costs by identifying:
- Billing and coding errors
- Duplicate charges
- Denied claims that require further involvement from your provider
Some medical insurance companies offer caseworkers or client advocates separate from the general customer service pool to assist you directly with disputes and coverage issues.
#2 Negotiate With Providers
It’s not news to healthcare providers that bills are a shock to the system, especially after in-patient hospital stays or complex surgeries. Most providers are prepared to work with patients on settling bills. To start this process, follow these steps:
- Contact the medical billing department, explain your circumstances, and ask for help
- Request a discount to reduce the cost
- Negotiate a payment plan that fits your budget
Payment plans directly with providers often come with no interest charged over months or even years, so if you need to pay over time they’re usually a better deal than taking out any kind of loan to pay your medical expenses.
If you’re dealing with a hospital or a healthcare network, ask if they have a patient advocate or caseworker who can assist you with claim disputes or finding outside sources of financial aid to pay your medical bills.
#3 Call Your Benefits Hotline
If you’re an employee at a mid-sized to large company, you may have an emergency support service as part of your benefits package. This is typically intended to ensure employees in a medical treatment crisis can take advantage of their benefits and find community or other resources to help keep their heads above water.
If you contact the help hotline or your company’s human services department, they may be able to:
- Provide information on any company aid options such as low-interest employee loans
- Help you with denied claims or other insurance issues
- Offer further suggestions for governmental or other resources to help with medical bills
#4 Consider Affiliation Grants and Services
Your membership in some organizations, your profession, and your service background may all be inroads to grants, loans, or other types of aid assistance programs.
Veteran status can trigger support, but you may also find organizations that provide help for medical costs to low-benefit groups like artists and actors.
#5 Request Charitable Help
In addition to providing direct services and care, many charities help with medical bills. Consider giving these organizations a call to explain your situation:
- The HealthWell Foundation and the PAN Foundation for disease-specific organizations
- American Veterans Relief Foundation
- Patient Services, Inc.
- Modest Needs
- Patient Access Network
- UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation
- Children’s Health Fund
- Local churches
- National religious charities
#6 Seek Government Assistance
You may qualify for government assistance with your high medical bills. There are several programs available to help pay for healthcare, usually based on low-income thresholds, including:
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
- State-level low-income coverage such as MinnesotaCare or the New York Essential Plan
- Medicare (based on disability status or age)
Contact your state’s Medicaid office or the Social Security Administration to see if you qualify for assistance.
#7 Seek Crowdfunding
Another great tactic for learning how to get rid of medical debt is crowdfunding. Crowdfunding on platforms like GoFundMe or GiveForward allows you to ask for help from friends and strangers alike and share your situation. You can set up a campaign requesting help paying medical bills for yourself or someone in need on several sites. Platforms charge fees in different ways, so compare them carefully:
- Fundly fees are 4.9% per donation and 2.9% plus 30 per credit card transaction2
- Indiegogo fees depend on whether a campaign goal is reached
- Givebutter donors can provide a tip to cover platform fees
#8 Don’t Hesitate to Continue Your Research
Charitable and governmental help is often difficult to find because some programs are localized or intended to fit specific groups or needs. Spend time online plugging in your particular needs, diagnosis, location, and demographics such as religion or profession to see if you can come up with additional avenues for help paying medical bills.
A good place to start is FindHelp.Org. After entering your zip code, you can drill down to find what grants, programs, and assistance you may qualify for from charities, corporations, and government organizations.
#9 Host a Fundraiser
Looking for an in-person alternative to raise money? Consider hosting a fundraising event to cover medical bills. Events can range from simple to complex depending on your support network and resources—consider:
- A potluck at a local park with donation-based games and a raffle
- A silent auction of donated goods and services
- A bake sale or other type of sale of homemade goods
- Partnering with a local restaurant to pledge a percentage of their profits on a given day
If you’re struggling to pay your medical bills, you’re not alone. There are many ways to reduce bills and obtain assistance paying them. The first step in figuring out how to get help with medical bills is to understand your options.
- The American Journal of Medicine. Medical Bankruptcy in the United States, 2007: Results of a National Study. https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343%2809%2900404-5/pdf
- WealthFit. 14 Organizations That Pay Medical Bills (Medical Debt Relief). https://wealthfit.com/articles/organizations-that-help-pay-medical-bills/