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Tips to Avoid Medical Debt

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Here are some ways you can avoid taking out debt to pay for medical expenses.

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1. Double-check your insurance coverage

If you do your research ahead of time, most cases your insurance will cover the majority. Dr. R. Ruth Linden (President of Tree of Life Health Advocates) says, “The first thing you should do is ensure that if you require preauthorization, you receive it and it’s at the highest benefit level to you are entitled to, and it’s in writing.” She adds that you should always double- or triple-check that your doctor is in network, that your hospital is in network, and that your provider is in network.

To ensure that your treatments and providers are covered, contact your insurance company. It is important to know what you will be responsible for. Linden says it makes a big difference in planning.

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2. Utilize Your Health Savings account (HSA).

You may be eligible for an HSA if you have a high-deductible plan. You can contribute money to an HSA on a pretax basis to help pay for medical expenses. You can save money by putting your money in an HSA to pay for elective or necessary treatments. You can also roll the money you have contributed to an HSA into the next year to pay for future medical expenses.

Gutierrez says that HSAs are an attractive tool as they don’t ‘use it, or lose it’ as flexible spending accounts (FSA).

You can also invest your HSA contributions to potentially grow your money over the long-term. It is important to remember that even index funds are relatively safe investments, there is still risk. We recommend that you keep your HSA funds as cash, rather than invest them.

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3. Save for Future Care

Even if you don’t have an HSA, it’s a smart idea to save money in a savings account for emergency expenses. If you are planning an elective procedure, save money to pay for it.

You can save money by starting a side business, setting up automatic savings accounts, trimming your budget, and creating separate savings accounts. You can then store the money in an FDIC insured high-yield savings account, so it can grow over time without any risk.

4. Appeal

You may have the right to appeal an insurance company’s denial of your claim. Sometimes, your claim might have been denied because of a mistake. Linden says that it all comes down to finding out why these claims aren’t being processed correctly. Sometimes claims are processed at an incorrect level of benefit. Sometimes, an out-of network provider is used. The case must then be filed to process the claim at in-network benefit.

You may need to appeal your decision. To do this, consult your doctor or treatment team.

You may also find it helpful to hire a health advocate to represent you. The Patient Advocate Foundation, a non-profit organization, provides free assistance for patients with severe and chronic conditions. You can also use the AdvoConnection Directory to locate healthcare advocates in your area.

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5. Negotiate with the hospital or healthcare provider

Don’t panic if you receive medical treatment and are faced with a bill that you cannot afford to pay. You may be able negotiate the bill with your hospital or healthcare provider depending on your situation. You may be able to negotiate a payment plan that spreads the payments over many years or waive part or all of the bill. Linden says that while 100% forgiveness is possible, it all depends on Linden’s experience, income, age, employment status, and many other factors. To find out what assistance your healthcare provider can provide, it’s worth calling them.

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