Almost every American faces medical debt at some point in their life. So you’re not alone if you’re scared of the prospect of medical debt damaging your personal credit and causing you to go into a financial crisis when you least expect it.
Fear not! There are ways to avoid having your financial dreams derailed by a medical emergency, an unexpected procedure, or unnecessary medical expenses. Here are some life hacks we came up with that can help you reduce or eliminate medical debt:
- Stick to Doctors Within Your Network – If your plan requires that you visit doctors within your network, stick to those doctors so you don’t have to pay out-of-network fees.
- Pay Your Medical Bills In Full –Chances are you will receive a discount. Many hospitals offer a 10% discount when you agree to pay your bill in full.
- Don’t Switch Plans to Visit a Doctor Out-of-Network Once – You can save money if you only have to visit an out-of-network doctor once a year. Changing your plan for the sake of one service can result in higher health insurance plan premiums over the long term.
- Opt For “Minimum Essential Coverage” Instead of Expensive Health Insurance Plans – If you’re cash strapped and healthy, a minimum essential coverage may be your best option. These plan usually only cover preventative care and other basic medical services—not hospitalizations and outpatient surgery.
- Utilize Charity Care Programs – Your hospital may offer discounted services to low-income people. It’s a little known secret that you can apply for charity care programs that may reduce or eliminate your entire bill if you qualify. To get started, just call the hospital that has billed you and ask them if you can apply for their “charity care program”.
- Find Out What’s Covered by Your Health Insurance Provider – Before you schedule a medical procedure, find out what’s covered and at what rate. If you determine the cost will be high, talk to the referring doctor about lower cost alternatives.
- Request a Payment Plan – If you owe a medical bill that you are not able to pay in full, you can usually get on a payment plan with lower minimum payments. As long as you continue to pay the bill monthly, the debt should not show up on your credit report. All you have to do is call to make arrangements before the debt becomes delinquent.
- Use Urgent Care Centers – Find out if urgent care centers are included in your health insurance plan network. They often charge a flat fee for labs, therefore you won’t have unexpected bills later on. They can also help with a variety of problems that don’t require hospitalization, which will also save you money in the long run.
- Ask for Prescription Samples or Coupons – Some prescriptions are free at pharmacies such as Walmart and Meijer. When filling your prescription, ask the pharmacist if any samples or coupons are available.
- Combine Doctor Visits to Save Money – When visiting your doctor, make sure they address multiple issues at once so you don’t have to go back for repeat visits.
- Get Refills on Prescriptions from a Family Doctor Instead of a Specialist – For example, if you go to a dermatologist to get a prescription for acne, instead of going back to the dermatologist for a refill on the prescription, it may be cheaper to go to your family doctor or a general practitioner to get a refill.
- Research the Costs of Certain Procedures/Appointments – Research the costs of procedures and appointments ahead of time so you can choose the lowest cost provider.
- Apply for a Grant from the Healthwell Foundation – You can apply to receive financial assistance with covering your medical bills. If approved, they may cover $6,000 per year in medical insurance premiums (for certain diseases). Visit https://www.healthwellfoundation.org/ for more information.
Courtesy of Accel Financial Counseling, Destinations Credit Union‘s financial counseling partner.