Negotiating Your Way Out of Medical Debt

Roughly 43 million Americans have delinquent medical debt, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but most may not know they can negotiate when it comes to their bills.

NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, NBC Connecticut’s parent company, is making a donation to RIP Medical Debt that will forgive $1 million of Connecticut’s medical debt. At least 674 people in Connecticut will receive yellow envelopes from RIP Medical Debt to inform the resident that some of their medical debt has been forgiven.

Since the selection process is random, residents can’t sign up or apply for relief that will forgive a million dollars’ worth of medical debt in Connecticut. However, even if you don’t receive a yellow envelope from RIP Medical Debt, there are ways to avoid collections and get help with your medical debt.

The first thing to know is you have about six months to straighten out any potential errors or disputes regarding medical bills before that debt starts impacting your credit score.

Bruce McClary, a spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, said the sooner you address the issue, the better.

“I would recommend, the first thing anybody should do - even while they're receiving treatment - is have an open dialogue with the care provider and talk about the cost of the medical care,” McClary said.

McClary said patients should ask about the cost of care before undergoing any treatment or procedures.

"They can put you into a payment plan that can fit into your budget and if they do that, that can keep it from going to a debt collector, which makes it a much more urgent and much more serious issue," he said, adding that doctors and hospitals are usually open to price negotiations.

McClary said patients should look at each bill as it comes in to make sure there aren’t any errors and that patients should get a final bill detailing what has been paid by insurance and any charges the patient is still responsible for.

Medical bills are typically sent to collections after three months of nonpayment. If your bill ends up in collections, McClary recommends contacting a reputable nonprofit credit counseling agency.

"Talk to a professional counselor about an affordable repayment plan that helps you clear the medical debt without derailing any of your other financial obligations," McClary said.

Once your debt is paid off, it will no longer affect your FICO score.

A useful research tool to check out before negotiating medical bills is The website tracks the prices of procedures at multiple facilities and uses that information to calculate a fair price.

For example, the website shows a patient in Waterbury can expect to pay between $34 and $462 for a chest X-ray, so Healthcare Bluebook determined a fair price to be $60.

If you want to help families struggling with medical debt, you can pay it forward with NBC Universal Owned Television Stations by making a donation to RIP Medical Debt. Just a few dollars can make a big difference in the lives of families struggling with their medical bills.

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