A 2007 survey of low- and middle-income consumers with credit card debt found the following: Nearly one-third (29 percent) reported that medical expenses contributed to their current level of credit card debt.

I would think that with the economy in the dumps since then, that percentage hasn't gone down very much. As a matter of fact, in a 2008 study: More than one-half (52%)of indebted low- and middle-income households cited medical expenses as contributing to their credit card debt. And that percentage seemed to stay the same as we moved into 2009.

I don't like starting out an article with boring stats, but these numbers had me shaking my head and realizing that debt isn't always caused by impulse buying or lack of a budget. At times life will push us into a corner and demand from us what we least want to give. Handing over a credit card to get a medical bill paid.

However, armed with knowledge and foresight, we may be able to limit the use of those credit cards as ways to pay medical bills.

Flickr/cc - joanna8555
 ➜ Check for Errors. Know Your Insurance. Recently a bill was received stating that I owed $349 for a nutritionist that was a referral from the doctor. Because of my insurance, I don't pay for referrals or a minimum $40 is paid. After the initial shock and anger, a call to the insurance company got things straightened out. Also, before going in for surgery, find out what is covered. As weird as it may seem, some things used in a surgical room may not be covered by insurance unless you get pre-approval.

➜ Call and Negotiate, Don't Hide. A few years back when I had no insurance and a trip to the emergency room was a necessity. A bill came in the mail for a few thousand, which I knew couldn't be paid all at once as much as I would like to. But after a few transfers to the correct billing department, a deal was struck for a lower amount and payment plan was set up that was much more manageable. Had I waited, that bill could have been sold off to a collection agency and the price would have gone higher, plus a ding on the credit report.

➜ Medical Financial Assistance. It hasn't been very difficult to arrange a payment plan when speaking to the billing department. However, they occasionally have minimums for payment plans. Sometimes hospitals will have you fill out forms to participate in a "charity" grant that pays part of the bill off. Keep in mind that you may need to ask for these types of grants or programs for the uninsured. Also check with your state or county resources for assistance as well.

➜ Workman's Compensation. You shouldn't be paying for, it may slow to a crawl when it comes to getting help and surgery. But the one thing I have found that is most necessary in these cases is to speak up loud and clear if you are not able to return to work. If you do return before you are healed, then any additional medical bills may be your responsibility because the previous claim had already been closed.

➜ Crime and Accidents. If you are a victim of crime and were injured, there are programs to assist you in paying medical bills. But, you have to file the claim correctly and within a certain time. Ask the police or the hospital for help with contacting the VoC. If you have medical bills in collections now, you may still be able to get retro-active assistance.
As for accidents, make certain the hospital or collection agency has all of the information they need to resolve the problem. Be open and honest on the police reports and with all the insurance companies involved.

➜ Denying Service. This is less likely to happen if you have kept in contact with the doctor's office and worked out even a small payment on the previous bill before making a new appointment. By Law: If you have a medical emergency, a hospital must treat you regardless of your ability to pay.
Section 1867 of the Social Security Act imposes specific obligations on Medicare-participating hospitals that offer emergency services to provide a medical screening examination (MSE) when a request is made for examination or treatment for an emergency medical condition (EMC), including active labor, regardless of an individual's ability to pay. Hospitals are then required to provide stabilizing treatment for patients with EMCs. If a hospital is unable to stabilize a patient within its capability, or if the patient requests, an appropriate transfer should be implemented.

All I want to do here is make sure you are armed with information should you get a bill that is beyond your financial ability and as an alternative to using credit cards to pay.

Other Charitable Groups for medical assistance:
* The Access Project - Free assistance in negotiating medical bills.
The CancerCare Co-Payment Assistance Foundation - A not-for-profit organization established in 2007 to address the needs of individuals who cannot afford their insurance co-payments to cover the cost of medications for treating cancer.
Free Medical Clinics -  Find Free information about Free Medical Clinics and Free Dental Clinics. 


  1. Tim Gray // Monday, February 14, 2011 8:32:00 AM  

    7 - set up a HSA... Health Savings Account. It's like self-insurance but tax deductible. I keep adding every paycheck, and when we have a medical need, that money is there.

  2. Cynthia // Tuesday, February 15, 2011 9:52:00 AM  

    Very good post on an issue that's been robbing many of us of our sleep.

    I'd like to add that many hospitals have social workers than can refer you to services that will help you pay your medical bills. Some will even help you apply for assistance.

  3. Dawn // Sunday, February 27, 2011 10:44:00 AM  

    @Tim Gray
    I'm in love with HSA - it's a bummer they took off OTC drugs as I used to buy those for the last little bit I had in the account. Oh well.

    Thanks for the info