Keep your credit report healthy and avoid unpaid medical debt.

Many Americans with outstanding medical bills are in collections.

More than half owe a balance for healthcare expenses, according to a new poll. Slightly less than half (46 percent) of them have been contacted by a collection agency. Sadly, it doesn’t take a huge bill.

For two years in a row, more than 1 in 3 of Americans told they couldn’t afford between $1,000 and $5,000 worth of medical debt. When a healthcare procedure is out of your budget, it pays to know your options.

1. Take a look at the bill

Before anything, ask for an itemized bill and verify the information is correct.

Is that your name? Do the dates match? Was that procedure performed? Are there duplicate charges? Roughly, 80% of medical bills contain at least one error, according to personal finance site NerdWallet. Don’t assume a mistake wasn’t made.

Find out: How to Deal with Medical Debt in Collections

2. Find out what insurance will cover

If you have insurance, the hospital or healthcare provider will file a claim with the insurance company. It’ll then send you an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) outlining what qualifies for reimbursement. Compare that to your medical bill before paying anything.

A survey from Consumer Reports found “nearly 3 in 10 Americans with insurance had a medical debt sent to a collection agency.” One-fourth of them didn’t even know they owed a bill.

Health insurance companies make mistakes, too. You can call to ensure the claim is correct.

Find out: What Happens if You Can’t Pay Your Medical Bills?

3. Set up a payment plan

Call the healthcare provider and ask if they can arrange affordable monthly payments.

You can also negotiate with the hospital billing department. After confirming the information in your bill and EOB, do research on pricing.

You can search through health insurance claim databases like Healthcare Bluebook or FAIR Health for prices in your area. Then compare prices on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website by using the billing code.

Find out: How to Appeal a Health Insurance Claim Denial

4. Use a medical credit card

Trading one debt for another is only helpful when it saves you money. There are more than a few instances where using a credit card to pay medical debt can be a smart move.

Many medical credit cards offer a six to 12 month period of zero percent interest. Add up the payments. If you can afford that balance by the time that window closes it’s worth it.

If not, you’ll get stuck paying the deferred interest.

Find out: 5 Things That can Cause You to Overpay On Medical Bills – and How to Avoid Them

5. Hire a medical billing advocate

A medical billing advocate will typically charge a percentage of what their clients save on medical bills. Others charge an hourly rate ranging from $75 to $350.

Medical bill advocates are experts and know the ins and outs of medical billing and what procedures tend to cost. They review medical bills and negotiate settlements every day.

Hiring a medical advocate is only worth it if their fees cost less than your medical bills.

Find out: 6 Questions to Ask Before Paying a Medical Bill in Collections

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About the Author

Joe Pye

Joe Pye

Joe Pye started writing about debt and personal finance five years ago while attending Florida Atlantic University, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the student-run newspaper, the University Press. Before graduating with a bachelor's degree in multimedia journalism, Pye placed as a finalist for the Mark of Excellence award by the Society of Professional Journalists Region 3 for feature writing and in-depth reporting. In 2021, Pye earned First Place in the Green Eyeshade awards for "Best Blog" for his side-project Since taking a full-time position as associate editor at in 2018, Pye has become a certified debt management professional who's applied what he's learned to his personal life by paying down more than $22,000 worth of combined credit card, student loan, auto and tax debt in less than two years.

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