The agency’s proposed changes come as it faces a legal challenge to its powers in the U.S. Supreme Court. Arguments in the case are expected to be heard next week and a decision will be made sometime next year.
Here are some questions and answers about medical debt:
What should I do if I can’t afford the medical bill?
If you don’t have health insurance, see if you’re eligible for coverage under Medicaid, the federal health program for low-income people, or ask if you’re eligible for patient assistance programs that can reduce the amount you owe, Chi Chi said Wu, a senior attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. Nonprofit hospitals are required to offer the programs to maintain their tax-exempt status, she said, but the criteria vary and some hospitals may make it difficult to enroll.
Be careful, Ms. Wu said, if a provider offers you special financing to pay your medical bill. These credit cards sometimes come with deferred interest, which can significantly increase the amount you owe if you don’t pay off the bill by a certain deadline.
If you have health insurance, request a detailed bill and compare it with your insurer’s “explanation of benefits” to ensure the bill accurately reflects the care you received and what you owe, said Tzedek DC’s Ms. Holloway. And when managing bills, keep an eye on medical debt, she said. Prioritize paying bills like rent or mortgage and your car loan over paying off medical debt.
Additional resources for patients can be found online at RIPMedicalDebt.org.
Should I pay medical bills with my credit card?
If you’re concerned that you ultimately won’t be able to afford to pay the bills, you should avoid paying with a traditional credit card, Ms. Wu said. Once the debt is registered on a card, you may have to pay higher interest and late payment penalties if you are unable to pay off the debt on time. Additionally, the debt is not identified as medical debt and therefore may not be eligible for current and proposed protections. (Colorado does, however, consider debt on specialty medical credit cards as part of its medical debt reporting law.) Nearly a quarter of adults with past-due medical bills said they paid all or part of their bills with a credit card and were later unable to pay them Minimum payment, according to the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.
How can I determine if medical debt has been incorrectly listed on my credit report?
Get a copy of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com. The major credit reporting agencies have “permanently extended” their offer of weekly free reports. (Federal law requires annual free reports.) If you see a collection debt that you don’t think should be there, file a dispute with the credit bureaus. You can also file a complaint with the Consumer Affairs Office.