A reader wants to know how much getting sick really costs.
Question: I recently had a procedure at the hospital. Insurance paid their part. I tried making arrangements with the hospital of $100 per month – they said that’s not enough for it to be paid off in 6 months.
I said, what’s the deal with 6 months? She replied that if I don’t have them paid in full in 6 months I will get turned over to collections. Can that actually be done if I am trying? And if they are going to turn me into collections, then why even try?
— James in Portland
Steve Rhode answers…
It’s a common myth that if you are paying a hospital provider what you can afford they can’t turn you over to collections. Unfortunately, that’s simply not true. Despite the perception otherwise, hospitals are businesses and they aren’t required to extend financing to customers (patients) who can’t pay the bill in full. Having said that, there may be some options here you haven’t explored.
1. Request a copy of their financial assistance/charity care policy to see if you may qualify. If you haven’t yet applied for it, do so.
2. Ask for an itemized copy of your bill and go over it line by line to make sure you weren’t overcharged. Billing errors in favor of the hospital are not uncommon.
3. Total ALL your medical debt – not just this bill – and divide it by the total you can afford to pay each month on all of them. If you can’t afford to pay all of it off in three years or less that may be a sign that you need to talk with a bankruptcy attorney.
Consider using a credit card or personal loan to pay the bill, then pay that off over time. It will cost you more due to interest, but it will keep a collection account off your credit reports.
Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy. He’s been helping people with personal finance troubles through advice and education since 1994. If you would like to ask a question, visit Get Out of Debt and let Steve help you for free.