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Medical Debt and You: Know What to Ask

In the United States, 41% of adults under the age of 65 experience medical bill problems.1 This may include having problems paying or being unable to pay a bill, having a bill sent to collections or having to file bankruptcy due to unpaid medical bills.

The Access Project, a program of the Center for Community Health Research and Action of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, sponsored a study to assess American’s access to healthcare.  Researchers found that when staff of medical facilities offered people, “information about financial assistance, individuals were less likely to owe money to the facility.”2

So, what are your options when facing medical debt?

  1. If you do NOT have insurance, ask the provider to charge you the same rate they charge insured patients. Insurance companies typically get a break in the fees hospitals, doctors and pharmacies charge. Ask for the same cost reduction.
  2. If you are insured, review your statement or explanation of benefits provided by your insurance company. If they did not cover something that you feel should have been covered, appeal the decision. If you cannot pay the medical provider while you are waiting for a decision, be sure to let them know what is occurring.
  3. Ask about charity care or financial assistance programs. These programs are in place to help people with insurance or without insurance, who cannot pay their medical bill. There may be income qualifications.
  4. Ask for a payment plan. Let the provider or facility know what you can afford to pay each month. Many places will accept a payment plan, because they do not want to lose a patient. Be open with the provider about how much you can manage to pay and never promise to pay more than you can send.
  5. Ask for information about applying for medical benefits through your state. In some areas, the medical coverage will apply retroactively up to three months.
  6. Finally, contact a credit counselor for help managing your finances and assessing all of your payment options, including a debt management plan, bankruptcy, or a reorganization of your monthly budget.

 Our health is one of our most important assets. Poor health makes it difficult to work, to care for our families and to manage our daily lives. While there is no magic wand for taking care of our medical concerns and medical bills, there are people who can help. Take the time to look into the options available to you and to ask for assistance in handling this important area of life.


1Rukavina, Mark. January 2011. Health Care Costs and Medical Debt: Problem and Opportunity (PowerPoint). (Available from The Access Project, 89 South St., Suite 202, Boston, MA 02111)

  2Andrulis, D, Duchon, L, Pryor, C, Goodman, N. January 2003. Paying for Health Care

When You’re Uninsured: How Much Support Does the Safety Net Offer? The Access Project.

Published Feb 15, 2011.