If you are searching for medical debt help, you’re not alone. More than 100 million Americans are struggling to pay off their healthcare debt. At 41%, that’s nearly half of all U.S. adults, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report.
Almost 70% of respondents to BuoyFi’s 2022 Medical Debt Survey said they owe between $500 and $5,000 in medical debt. One estimate puts U.S. medical debt at nearly $195 billion, with those who owe more than $10,000 making up much of the total. That doesn’t include medical debt paid with a consumer credit card or personal loan.
Facts and figures don’t fully capture the health implications of medical debt. Almost half of Americans surveyed by BouyFi say they have trouble paying for everyday necessities because of overdue medical debt. And more studies are revealing correlations between debt and chronic stress, anxiety, depression and more frequent or sustained illnesses. That means engaging with care providers or debt collectors to resolve your debt or to find more affordable payment plans can be good for your financial, mental and physical health.
The good news? There are options for medical debt relief, from full and partial debt forgiveness, to more affordable settlement and payment plans:
- What to do first if you need help
- How to get help with medical debt
- Learn how to read your medical bill
- How to choose the right medical debt payment plan
- How to plan for future medical expenses
- Ask an Expert: Medical debt FAQs
- Where to go for additional help
If you have medical debt, don’t ignore it, even if you can’t afford to pay the bill. While health care providers and credit bureaus treat medical debt differently than other consumer debt when credit reporting, failing to engage with the care provider or collections agency to discuss options for settlement or affordable payment plans can still impact your credit.
In fact, medical debt can hurt your credit score by 45 points or more, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). A low credit score can affect your loan approval chances, as well as make any loan you are approved for more expensive through higher interest rates.
Instead, reach out early to your healthcare provider or collections agency. Explain your situation, let them know you want to pay your debt, then ask for their help. They know it can be difficult to pay off significant medical debt and will often help you find an option that works for you. Free third-party tools like BuoyFi can help you understand what you can afford based on your household income, and the experts at BuoyFi can discuss approaches to negotiating your debt with your care provider or collection agency.
Before you reach out to your provider, it’s best to already have a plan in mind. Having a plan beforehand gives you the confidence you need to negotiate with your provider and helps you better understand your financial options.
Building a plan is relatively simple if you take some time to learn about medical billing, consider the payment options available to you, and plan for future medical expenses.
If you’re like most people, when a medical bill arrives, you only pay attention to the “amount due.” All the other pages included in your bill – laced with medical jargon and hospital codes – are the key to understanding why you were charged and what you are expected to pay.
Your first step toward freedom from medical debt is to learn how to read your medical bill, understand what each section means, and discover the difference between bills from care providers and Explanation of Benefits from insurance companies.
Now that you know what the provider is charging you for and why, you can speak to your provider with knowledge on your side. And knowledge is power, especially when it comes to negotiation.
Of course, the idea of negotiation can be as stressful to some as the medical debt itself. Rest assured this form of negotiation is more about sharing the reasons why paying the bill in full is a challenge and how you would like to remedy the situation. Providers are in the business of medical care. They need to cover the cost of facilities, treatment, equipment and staff to continue delivering quality care. Because of this, most healthcare providers would prefer to work out a reasonable payment plan or settlement option than receive no payment at all. A patient forced into a dire financial situation, like filing for bankruptcy, not only damages their relationship with a patient, it delays or eliminates any chance of payment.
If you aren’t comfortable negotiating with your provider personally or determining which payment plan is best for you, complete the BuoyFi Calculator and consult with one of our BuoyFi Concierges– patient advocates who can answer your questions.
The best way to avoid future medical debt is to plan ahead. Establishing a savings routine will help you prevent unexpected expenses from becoming unpaid medical bills. Getting started is easy.
If you are on a high-deductible insurance plan, you can apply for a health savings account (HSA). An HSA allows you to save for myriad medical expenses, from co-pays to over-the-counter medicine – even glasses and contacts – tax-free. Also be sure to shop around for lower price medications. GoodRx offers easy price comparisons, and Cost Plus Drug Company offers common medications at a fraction of the cost of chain pharmacies.
Often patients struggling with medical bills are juggling other monthly bills and have a difficult time committing a set amount to an HSA. BuoyFi offers a Savings program that offers more flexibility than a traditional HSA. BuoyFi Savings links to your credit or debit card and “rounds up” every purchase to the nearest dollar, dropping the change into an account that grows over time. While HSA savings must go toward medical expenses, you can use BuoyFi Savings to pay whichever bills are most urgent, flexing from medical to utilities to credit card balances to meet your needs.
Several factors have created and continue to contribute to the problem. More responsibility for the cost of care has shifted to the patient through high deductible plans, while the overall cost of care has steadily risen. Private health insurance deductibles can become a burden on a patient when a healthcare need is unexpected. Prices for medical procedures are difficult to find and compare, and insurance coverages and exceptions can be hard to understand and plan for, especially during an emergency.
The make matters worse, 56% of Americans do not have enough savings to cover an unexpected $1000 expense of any kind. 22 percent of American adults report donating to GoFundMe medical campaigns, and as of 2021, approximately $650 million, or about one-third of all funds raised by GoFundMe, went to medical campaigns. Crowed-sourced funding, charitable care and debt forgiveness organizations, while important to helping solve the medical debt crisis, do not meet the needs of the majority of people with medical debt. And when medical debt is paid with a high-interest credit card, additional fees balloon the balance and create an even greater financial problem for the patient.
The goal of the No Surprises Act is to eliminate surprise medical billing, a contributor to overall medical debt. Targeting certain out-of-network providers and ancillary providers, the law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2022. Surprise billing is more likely to occur in emergency situations where patients may not get to choose an in-network provider.
Furthermore, a hospital price transparency rule has been in effect since 2021. It requires hospitals to post online rates they’ve negotiated with insurers for 300 common medical services. For consumers who plan ahead for medical services, this provides an opportunity to compare prices and make informed financial decisions.
Don’t ignore your debt and talk to your provider or collections agency about payment options and financial assistance programs. If you have a planned procedure, talk to your provider about your financial concerns. They could offer you a lower price, or more flexible payment options. They might also refer you to a professional organization that can help you navigate medical costs.
If you haven’t already, explore your options with Medicaid. Eligibility requirements are determined by the federal poverty guide, your household size, and state requirements. Other state-based aid programs may be available as well.
Don’t ignore your debt and talk to your provider or collections agency about payment options and financial assistance. If you are a senior citizen and have not applied for Medicare, start there. Medicare is a government program that was designed to provide seniors with comprehensive and low-cost health insurance. If you find you are still having trouble paying medical bills, reach out to a professional about applying for Medicaid.
Medicare and Medicaid patients may also be eligible for a Dual Eligibility Special Needs Plan (DSNP). DSNPs will cover most of your hospital bill, outpatient services, and prescription drug needs.
Don’t ignore your debt and talk to your provider or collections agency about payment options and financial assistance. If you have not yet contacted Veterans Affairs, make sure to do so. If eligible, VA health benefits are comprehensive and cover everything from health exams to emergency care and acute care.
Where to go for additional help
The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. There are several organizations that offer a variety of financial assistance programs depending on your needs.
Our mission is to empower Americans by helping them free themselves from burdensome medical debt while building a healthier financial future. We want to make sure you understand how much medical debt you can afford to pay, recommend personalized plans to help you take the first step toward financial freedom, and provide you with the financial tools to maintain that freedom.
Ready to take the first step? Download the BuoyFi app today.