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Taking control of your medical debts

While medical debts have declined, 25 percent of Americans under the age of 65 have unpaid medical bills according to the Urban Institute. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 27 percent actually postpone health care because of challenges in paying premiums and meeting deductibles. The number one call by a debt collector involves medical debts, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Far too many U.S. citizens covered by insurance are one surgery or ambulance ride away from seeing their finances devastated.

Illness and accidents are unavoidable and beyond anyone’s control. However, smart and proactive steps can help prevent the nightmares that come with bankruptcy or wage garnishment.

Knowledge is power when patients feel powerless. That starts with the initial purchase of healthcare, treating it like any other "big ticket" item. Consumers should get to know the product and study all cautionary tales. Simply stated, they should comparison shop.

Finding anything that resembles a price list is possible but challenging. Several websites “ballpark” the cost of a doctor’s visit or procedure. Some insurance companies and state health departments post average prices online. A more “old-school approach” of calling for price estimates can be effective as well.

Additional cost-saving steps include:

  • Obtain a preauthorization for service or a hospital stay
  • Know the state laws regarding health insurance
  • Examine bills thoroughly to identify duplicate charges and incorrect dates and times
  • Challenge a bill by filing a complaint to your state’s insurance commissioner
  • Negotiate a resolution before the account goes into collection

The health-care system in any form is complex for not only consumers, but also medical professionals. Patient advocates refer to it as a system designed for confusion, inherently creating a disconnect between people obtaining medical services and subsequently paying for them.

While you may think that avoiding bankruptcy preserves your integrity, the decision has a price that includes lower credit scores, struggling to make ends meet, and avoidance in getting the health care you and your family members may need.

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