Little in life is more unfair than medical debt. You didn’t ask for it, you got no pleasure from it but you owe it just the same. Fortunately there are some significant differences in the handling of medical debts that may help cure your worries. Below are tips for your credit, tips to reduce your balance, tips for making your payments more affordable and tips on how to get affordable professional help.
1. Medical Debt impacts Your Credit Report/Credit Score Differently
Here is some good news to take some of the pressure off you. First, with few exceptions, medical debts won’t show up on your credit reports for six months. Hospitals and doctors don’t like to pay to report to credit bureaus so until a bill goes to an outside collector, it is effectively invisible.
The credit bureaus recognize that medical debt is unique and takes extra time to handle and get your insurance claim processed, appealed and paid. Within the next year, they are moving to not even show medical collection accounts for an additional 6 months for the same reason. The net effect of this is that you are not under the gun to pay up right away or else. Furthermore, medical debts do not lower your credit score. The latest version of FICO® (FICO Score 9) disregards all paid medical collection accounts completely. It also gives less weight to unpaid medical collections than unpaid non-medical collections. Why? Because consumers with unpaid medical collections are less likely to default on credit accounts in the future than people with unpaid non-medical collections. Having been sick does not make you a less responsible future borrower.
2. Apply For Medical Financial Aid
Many hospitals provide charitable or financial aid to patients who qualify and ask for it. Many clinics and doctors offices also consider helping you if you can demonstrate you are under duress because of escalating medical debts or decreasing income. However if you decide to apply for financial aid I recommend that you do so as soon as possible as many providers have a 6 to 12 month time limit on aid applications. Expect to complete a small mountain of paperwork, but you may be able to wipe out thousands of dollars of bills.
Also ask if your hospital is covered under the federal Hill-Burton Act. About 150 health care facilities nationwide are obligated to provide free or reduced-cost care under the Act. Since 1980, more than $6 billion in uncompensated services have been provided to eligible patients through Hill-Burton. See http://www.hrsa.gov/gethealthcare/affordable/hillburton/ for more information.
3. Double Down On Insurance Claims
I don’t mean send in duplicate claims. I do mean ask more than once if your claim isn’t paid to your satisfaction. Monitor your claims for errors. Much can be lost in translation! The doctor has to give the correct description to the coder who has to apply the correct codes to the insurance submission and the claim department at the insurance company has to process it correctly.
That’s at least three places in a high volume process for errors to happen. Add to that the fact that insurance codes have recently exploded in volume with the new ICD 10 codes and you have a recipe for mistakes. If your claim is rejected, ask for it to be resubmitted and for an explanation of why it was rejected the first time. Repeat PRN as needed.
If you still have a hard time getting your bills covered and you think the insurance company is wrong, I suggest you take your claim to a higher authority. Complain in writing. The escalating titles to whom you should write include claim supervisor, unit manager, assistant manager, claims manager, regional claims vice president and home office claims senior vice president. If none of that works, write to the insurance regulator in your state. Insurers hate complaints and will often make some concessions to avoid regulatory scrutiny. You can find your state regulator at www.naic.org.
4. Get Free Or Low Cost Professional Help
Help is available in the form of advocates. Several organizations, some non-profit, can help you negotiate fees and payments or help you fill out any forms you may be asked for. I like the national non-profit Patient Advocate Foundation. A couple of others to check out are Healthcare Advocates, Inc. and Medical Billing Advocates Of America.