Medical Debt: What to Do When You Can’t Pay

People frequently feel ashamed of their medical debt, seeing it as a personal failure. In fact, it ‘s more of a mass affliction .

Americans are estimated to jointly owe a much as $ 140 billion in outstanding medical debt. Lack of indemnity and a steadily increasing monetary value of health care are the two main culprits behind the growing checkup debt problem .

What if you ca n’t pay your hospital bills ? What if you have accumulated medical debt and have no direction of paying it on prison term ? On both accounts, the consequences can be serious .

People may forego the care they need, including doctor appointments, tests, treatments, and prescription drug medications, reports the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy analysis nonprofit organization. They may struggle to pay early bills, consume savings, damage their credit, and even declare bankruptcy .

Key Takeaways

  • Millions of Americans struggle with high medical bills and medical debt can be particularly problematic for those who lack adequate insurance.
  • Filing bankruptcy is often used as a last-resort means of dealing with overwhelming medical debt.
  • Unpaid medical bills can be detrimental to your credit score and financial security.
  • Check all medical bills for errors and try to settle an unaffordable debt for less than the full amount.

medical Debt Is More park Than You Think

In the U.S., many people are not paying their checkup bills because they ca n’t afford them. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 19 % of american households could not afford to pay for medical care they received right away. Households with children are more probably than those without children to have amateur aesculapian bills .

lack of insurance is one key cause for unpaid aesculapian debt. An calculate 31.2 million U.S. residents under the senesce of 65 in the U.S. are uninsured. They may not have the option to obtain insurance through the workplace, or may be freelance and unable to afford steep indemnity premiums. Regardless of the reason, a lack of health insurance coverage can cursorily translate into an unaffordable fiscal effect for those who require medical wish .

People normally respond to medical debt by delaying vacations, major family purchases, cutting back on family expenses, working more, borrowing from friends and class, and tapping retirement or college savings accounts to pay those bills. And of course a lot of medical debt remains unpaid .


If you ‘re uninsured you can check the union healthcare market for indemnity coverage options or contact your local health department to determine eligibility for Medicaid.

How to Manage Unpaid Medical Debt

When healthcare bills start piling up, it ‘s authoritative to be proactive rather than ignoring the site. If you ’ re faced with medical debt you can ’ thyroxine pay, try these tips for reducing what you owe so you can minimize the consequence of your bills on your finances, health, and future .

Check for Errors

assorted sources will tell you that anywhere from 7 % to 80 % of checkup bills check errors. The true percentage is anyone ’ mho guess, but the gamble of a mistake is apparent :

indeed how do you find errors on your checkup bills ? Sean Fox, co-president of San Mateo, Calif.-based company Freedom Debt Relief, says to start by reviewing the explanation of benefit statements from your insurance company, ideally justly after you receive them .

spirit for duplicate items, services you didn ’ metric ton receive, services you don ’ thymine accredit, and charges that your insurance should have covered. Review your healthcare providers ’ bills to make sure your insurance has paid them accurately. Call your insurance company or your supplier ’ s placard department to clarify anything you don ’ metric ton understand or to look into any potential mistakes, he says .

A more advanced technique is to get copies of your checkup records and attack to compare them with charges for which you ’ ve been billed. You may need an expert ’ sulfur help to secure those records and make smell of everything .


If your health care provider does not provide you with an itemize bill, do n’t hesitate to request one so you can see precisely what services were billed and how much each costs.

Negotiate Your Bill

If you want to negotiate your poster, speak with your healthcare provider ’ s checkup billing manager—the person who actually has the authority to lower your bill. Don ’ t wait until your bill is delinquent or in collections, at which point your recognition grade may be affected. talk to person equally soon as you receive your bill and have verified its accuracy .

If you have first gear income or are experiencing fiscal hardship—even if the hardship is due entirely to your aesculapian bills—request adversity aid. Hospital charity care may be available based on your income and savings. In fact, according to Fox, some hospitals are required by department of state law to provide detached or reduced services to low-income patients. vitamin a soon as your bills arrive, let your providers know if aesculapian problems have affected your income and ability to pay .

One strategy for justifying lower charges is to compare the price you were billed to those charged by other providers in your area. Use a web site such as or to get an idea of what you should be paying. If you have health indemnity, your insurance company ’ s web site might besides have a tool that lets you get an calculate price of care for respective procedures .

Advocate for Yourself

On its web site, Medical Billing Advocates of America recommends starting by asking for an aggressive discount rate for immediate payment, saying something like, “ If I pay you 30 % right now, will you write off the rest ? ” This scheme can work because your provider will save time and money if they don ’ t have to pursue payment from you for months or years.

If you can ’ t yield to pay even a percentage of your full poster immediately, try asking for a 25 % discount if you make a large down requital immediately. A less aggressive scheme is to ask if the supplier will charge you the discounted tip that Medicare or Medicaid pays .

If you can ’ metric ton dress a reduce requital, ask about a zero-interest payment plan. Whatever terms your supplier accepts, make indisputable to get them in writing .

Get Outside Help

few healthcare consumers are experts in checkup bill. A understanding choice is to enlist the aid of person who is : a aesculapian social worker, debt negotiator, or medical charge advocate. These professionals might be able to reduce what you owe when you can ’ thymine or are excessively timid to try .

medical placard advocates are indemnity agents, nurses, lawyers, and healthcare administrators who can help decipher and lower your bills. They ’ ll look for errors, negociate bills, and appeal excessive charges. Expect to pay an advocate around 30 % of the come by which your circular is reduced .

You can besides ask to speak with a social worker from your hospital or policy company if you need help understanding your bills and resolving payment issues, says Fox. A social worker may be able to refer you to charities, churches, community organizations, and politics agencies that can offer fiscal aid .

extra Considerations

In March 2022, the major consumer credit report measures unveiled measures to reduce the effect of aesculapian debt in collections on consumer credit scores. They included :

  • Removing repaid medical debt previously in collections from credit reports
  • Increasing the time before medical debt in collections appears on a credit report from six months to a year
  • Ending credit reporting for medical debts in collections below $500

The beginning two measures were to go into effect on July 1, 2022, and the third in the first half of 2023 .

In April 2022, the Biden administration unveiled a rate of measures to minimize the effect of medical debt and abusive collection practices. These included barring the consideration of medical debt in assessing applications for federal loanword programs .

The Bottom Line

The inequities of the U.S. healthcare system affect millions, while few can be certain they wo n’t confront a checkup issue beyond the setting of their insurance coverage and ability to pay. Control what you can by making surely your medical bills are accurate, negotiating for lower charges, and knowing your rights when it comes to medical debt collections. And if you can ’ t do these tasks on your own, get outside avail from an adept .

Unpaid Medical Debt FAQs

What happens if you don’t pay medical debt?

When a medical debt goes unpaid, the health care supplier can assign it to a debt collection agency. In a worst-case scenario, you could be sued for amateur aesculapian bills. If you were to lose the font, a creditor or debt collector could then take action to levy your bank bill or garnish your wages as payment .

Do unpaid medical bills ever go away?

After adequate time has passed amateur aesculapian debts may become bad under your state ‘s codified of limitations for debt. This means you can no long be sued for those checkup bills. That does not, however, erase the debt or the associated credit report .

Can medical debt be forgiven?

If you have outstanding checkup bills that are past due, your creditors might be volition to agree to a debt village. This would allow you to pay less than what ‘s owed to satisfy the debt, with the remainder forgive. You can negotiate a debt village on your own or hire a debt settlement company to do sol on your behalf.

Does unpaid medical debt hurt your credit?

Unpaid medical bills can hurt your credit scores if those debts are reported to the credit chest of drawers. eminence that the consume credit agency unveiled measures to minimize the effect of such reports, as discussed above .

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