Consumer Guide to Health Care
Coping with Medical Bills and Debt
Understand your bill |
Dispute your bill |
Paying your debt |
Collection agencies |
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Understanding your bill
Review your medical bills carefully to check for any mistakes. Even if you are
covered by insurance, the cost of billing errors may come out of your
pocket in the form of higher co-payments and drug costs.
Here is a resource to help you make sense of
your medical bills.
Disputing your bill
If you are unable to resolve a billing dispute with a hospital, clinic,
or doctor's office,
contact the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer
Protection at (608) 224-4960 or 1-800-422-7128 (in Wisconsin only).
Paying off your debt and protecting your credit
Unless you have successfully challenged your bill, you are responsible
for paying all of your medical bills. If you cannot pay, here are
some things to consider.
- Try to negotiate a payment plan. Your hospital or provider
may be willing to accept smaller monthly
payments. Keep in mind that your payments generally need to be
reasonable and you must keep up with your payments. In its
to parents of chronically ill children, the American Academy of
recommends the following:
- Notify the appropriate offices quickly.
- Keep in touch with your creditors.
- Record the names and phone numbers of the people you
are dealing with.
- Document the date, time, and results of your phone calls.
- Pay something - even a small amount - on each bill
each month as a gesture of good faith.
- Get information
on charity care in Wisconsin hospitals.
- Apply for Wisconsin Medicaid
or BadgerCare Plus.
If you are eligible, Medicaid may pay for some of your existing medical bills.
Wisconsin Medicaid coverage can begin as early as the first day of the month,
three months before the month you apply, if you would have been
eligible in those months, so apply as soon as possible.
- Go for credit counseling. Be aware, though, that some services
charge high fees and do nothing to really help reduce your debt.
Make sure you are working with a credit counseling service (also
known as an adjustment service agency) that is licensed by the
Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.
- Be creative about finding help from outside sources.
Charitable foundations, civic organizations and churches and community groups might
be able to help. The
Patient Pal (PDF, 197 KB) from the
Advocate Foundation includes some fundraising ideas for those with
high medical bills.
- Don't ignore bills. Though tempting, this is not a good strategy. Hospitals
and providers are more likely to negotiate with you if you contact
- Don't transfer debt to a credit card. Most experts warn that this is
a poor choice for paying off medical debt for two reasons:
Dealing with collection agencies
If your hospital or other health care provider has turned your bill
over to a collection agency, you are protected against harassment by the
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
Disputing a Debt, from the Wisconsin
Department of Financial Institutions, provides information on how to
deal with collection agencies.
Collection, also from the Wisconsin Department of Financial
Institutions, provides information on your rights.
If you have questions about your rights or the conduct of a collection
agency, contact the Department of Financial Institutions at (608) 264-7969,
or 1-800-452-3328 (in Wisconsin only).
The decision to file for bankruptcy should be last resort. More
information on how bankruptcy works and the different types is available from the
Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
If you find that you need legal help to deal with
your medical debt, the Wisconsin State Bar Association's
information on finding a lawyer and information on
a lawyer if you have a low income.
The Legal Services Corporation,
a private, non-profit corporation established by Congress, provides a list of Wisconsin
local legal aid
programs from its website.
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September 04, 2013