Medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States. As of 2013, 1.7 million Americans live in households that will declare bankruptcy due to unpaid medical expenses. Medical bills can also affect the health of your credit score.
Are medical bills and payments included on your credit report?
Unlike credit card bills, medical bills are generally not included on your credit report. If you pay your medical bills before they’re sold to a collection agency — even if it’s after the actual due date — they won’t be reported to the credit bureaus.
However, once a medical bill goes to collections, it will be put on your credit report and can damage your credit score. The lower your credit score, the lower your chances of obtaining credit with good terms or obtaining credit at all.
If you have unpaid medical bills and want to avoid collections, here are several things you can do.
How to deal with medical bills without damaging your credit score
Start by looking at your available options. First, if you have insurance, you should make sure your insurance company has been billed. Your doctor or hospital billing center should be able to give you this information. If your insurer has been billed, but your insurance benefits have not been applied to your bill, call your insurance company to resolve any issues.
If you’re unable to pay the balance on your medical bills, you may qualify for financial aid to cover part of the expense. For more information on financial aid, talk to a representative at your hospital or clinic.
For those without insurance coverage in low-income families, Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) are possible options. While these programs are mostly used to cover future bills, you may be able to get assistance with doctor bills from the previous three months, provided you qualified for Medicaid at the time.
For more information on Medicaid, check out the eligibility requirements. If your child needs coverage, contact your state social service agency for more information about your state’s CHIP requirements.
After pursuing all available options, it’s time to pay down your bills. First, try to negotiate. Go over your medical bill line-by-line to make sure you haven’t been charged for equipment or services you didn’t use. If there is anything on your medical bill you don’t understand, ask about it.
Sit down with a representative from the billing department and ask to have any erroneous charges removed. This is also a good time to try to settle for a lower price by offering a smaller amount to pay off your bill in its entirety. Medical bills are notoriously hard to collect on, so many providers will settle for a smaller amount just to make sure they get something.
If you are unable to negotiate an amount you can pay in one lump sum, set up a payment plan. Your medical provider and its billing department likely won’t punish you for splitting up your payments, as long as you work out a suitable payment plan with them. Communicating with your creditors is the best way to get them to work with you — something to keep in mind when dealing with any type of seemingly insurmountable debt.
Bottom line: To keep your credit score high, pay your medical bills in a timely manner or set up a payment plan with your doctor or hospital. If you’re unable to make payments, research the options available to decrease or cover your medical expenses, like Medicaid or financial aid. Most importantly, prioritize health insurance in your budget to keep your health care expenses manageable.
Medical form image via Shutterstock