Medical Debt

Did you know that the vast majority of bankruptcies in the United States are filed because of excessive medical debt? Once a person needs medical care, especially when that care is ongoing/chronic/forever, medical debt can become an overwhelming issue with no end in sight. Then, add on the aggressiveness with collection from health care companies and their collection agencies, and getting sick can cause true #financialtoxicity.

While our broken medical system isn’t going to be fixed any time soon, there is a small amount of relief from the reality of medical debt that became effective as of last week wherein the three major US credit reporting companies will no longer include paid medical debt on credit reports. Credit reports are a tool that banks, potential landlords, and others use to determine an individual’s creditworthiness. Since the overwhelming medical debt I referenced above impacts more than 4 in 10 adults, and can remain on a person’s credit report for seven (7) years after it is paid, this change may help quite a few people.

Some additional details of what the credit reporting companies are implementing:

  • All three major credit reporting companies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) have also extended the ability for individuals to resolve delinquent medical debt that has been sent to collections agencies before reporting it to a whole year, up from six (6) months.
  • All three major reporting companies will no longer include unpaid medical debt under $500 on their reports.

As someone who has to access the medical system forever and run up against so many financial issues, here are a few things that I can recommend from my own experiences:

  1. Know what your insurance covers and stand your ground when something is wrong. I tend to reach my out of pocket maximum for the year under my health insurance company each January and then have to communicate that to every provider for the rest of the year. I am often told that I have to pay the co-pay I don’t owe and then wait for reimbursement; I’ve also been told a variety of things that just aren’t true because the office just wanted money. Nope, just nope.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for payment plans if an amount of a co-pay or co-insurance or other out of pocket costs are higher than you can easily afford. Most hospitals or health care companies will accept small amounts per month if a person had good credit (see above issues) and will refrain from reporting a debt to the credit reporting agencies if you are compliant. Don’t forget to ask them to waive any interest accruing on the total amount.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for Medicare rates if you don’t have insurance or if a service isn’t covered; most companies will accept cash in a lower amount than the insurance rates.
  4. If you don’t agree with a bill or what your health care company/hospital is doing, say so. This goes for collection agencies as well, tell them you don’t agree and why. The Fair Debt Collection Act applies to collection agencies and protects us when a debt is being handled incorrectly or unfairly.
  5. Dealing with money is almost always fraught with emotions and stress, so don’t forget to breathe and focus on the facts; at the same time, don’t be afraid to tell your story. When a company dealing with a prescription of mine screwed up and caused a delay, I told them in lurid detail about the issues caused by their delays and how that was unfair to someone like me. In light of that explanation, the company actually called my insurance company and worked it out so that I could get the prescription on time. Don’t forget the power of sharing your human story and being vulnerable.

Medical debt can be difficult, it can be overwhelming, it can be triggering, and it’s so unfair for people already dealing with hard things like cancer and other health issues. I hope some of these suggestions can be of some assistance if you or someone you know is facing #financialtoxicity.

15 thoughts on “Medical Debt

  1. This is one issue for which I feel profound guilt. I even asked my first oncologist what women without means were supposed to do if they could not afford their treatment. She said with a very sad tone, “they die.” NOT ACCEPTABLE.
    I relish doctors’ offices that have that gifted individual who can use appropriate language to get what you need when your insurance company is on the fence about it. Medicare denied another full body scan. but it would allow two other scans that dp the job. Irony is that those two scans’ cost is more than the total body scan! I also had an issue with an ambulance company who said I owed $883 for one part of a two way trip. When this went on, I had the insurance company rep, the ambulance rep and me on the line as the insurance company told the ambulance company that my payment was batched with others. He even had her pull it up to see it! Patents should not have to do this, but be ready!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh Amen to that! They approve my seeing a specialist because my regular doctor is not qualified to deal with my issues, but when my specialist makes a recommendation, it has to be reviewed by “their doctors” to determine if it’s covered. What is the point of going to a specialist if it’s then going to fall back on a doctor who is likely less qualified than your primary? My doctor tried to call in a narcotic cough syrup because I have refractory bronchospasms and severe uncontrolled asthma. They spent an hour on the phone trying to explain that it was not because I couldn’t swallow pills, and that the pills would not be effective and stopping an emergency cycle of coughing and wheezing that I can’t fix with an inhaler or a nebulizer because I just keep coughing anything I breathe in. It didn’t matter. Anyone who has over 18 cannot have the liquid. So $50 every single time I pick it up. 🤦🏽‍♀️

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My biggest frustration with insurance companies is the inconsistency. Something that is covered is no longer covered until we resubmit the claim where it mysteriously goes through. Persistence is one of the keys. Mos t people understandably give up because they wear down.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As an Australian I have absolutely no idea why this has been allowed to happen. If I go back ten years I have had treatment for prostate cancer, for Dupuytren’s Contracture, a thyroidectomy, an angiogram and I have paid nothing except my taxes and transport. Of course, if I had paid health insurance I could have chosen a different hospital although in Ballarat the surgeon could well have conducted the procedure in either case. For instance there is an elevated walkway that joins the St John of God Ballarat Hospital to the Ballarat Base Hospital for the surgeons to walk from private to public patients.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such a valuable post, Abigail. Medical debt destroys individuals and families. And though I think I’m attuned to such matters, I didn’t know about the credit reporting companies’ move. That’s good to hear.


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