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5 ways to get help with medical bills when you don’t have insurance

Cropped SingleCare logo By | April 28, 2020
Medically reviewed by Gerardo Sison, Pharm.D.

Paying medical bills is daunting enough, let alone if you don’t have health insurance coverage. In 2019, 137.1 million Americans struggled with medical financial hardship. While budgeting for healthcare expenses can help, there are additional ways to reduce medical debt and get help with medical bills.

RELATED: Medical debt statistics 2020

Paying medical bills without insurance

If you find yourself in a medical emergency that is life-threatening, you should go to an emergency room located at the nearest hospital, regardless of your insurance status. However, if your medical condition needs to be treated but is not dire, you may be able to seek more affordable care from an urgent care facility. Copayments and out-of-pocket costs are often cheaper at urgent care centers than what you’d have to pay at the emergency room. The National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics has an online clinic finder that you can use to search for affordable medical care near you.

Legally, you cannot be turned down from medical care because you don’t have a health insurance plan or can’t afford to pay. So, how do you pay for medical expenses without insurance? Here are five money-saving tips for paying medical bills without insurance.

1. Review your bills for mistakes

Mistakes happen, even in medical bills. One typo can make the difference between whether or not a service is covered or denied by the insurance company. The process of categorizing and coding, especially when a multitude of services were performed, can be challenging for any healthcare professional. 

Review your medical bills and healthcare costs line by line and look for errors. You may be charged for services that you never received. A deeper investigation could also detect duplicate entries or other inaccurate charges. 

Up to 80% of medical bills have errors, according to the medical billing advocate group Resolve. Seek help from an advocacy group if you need assistance reviewing your medical expense paperwork. You can also request to review your medical charges with the hospital billing department. A social worker or patient advocate may also be available to assist you through your healthcare center. 

2. Request a discount

Negotiating a lower bill is another strategy to help reduce medical expenses. For instance, after reviewing your invoice, you may notice hospital fees for services that weren’t necessary. You can request certain fees to be waived or removed from the bill. While this is not guaranteed to reduce your bill, it’s worth the effort in asking. You may be surprised.

Also, you may be able to negotiate a lower bill if you can’t afford the entire payment but can pay a significant amount. Rather than setting up a payment plan, you may be able to pay off the debt owed at a lower amount with a lump sum. Ask the billing office’s administrator if this is a potential solution they would consider. An offer to settle with a lump sum form could be useful, especially if your debt is turned over to creditors, and you are considering filing for bankruptcy.

When seeking medical treatment at a doctor’s office, especially without insurance, you can ask your healthcare provider if they offer discounts to patients that pay in full or with cash. Inquiring about discounts can ease the stress associated with medical bill debt.

3. Follow up with your insurance provider

Even with an insurance policy, you may find that many insurance companies only cover a portion of medical expenses associated with treatments and medications. So, if you have some form of insurance, but still have medical bills beyond what you can pay, check with your insurance company to see if there are any fees that can be waived. 

A formal appeal process may be required to reduce your balance. Request an explanation of benefits from your insurance provider to learn more about what items on your hospital bills can potentially be covered.

4. Get on a payment plan

Sometimes, you have to get the medical care you need and focus on how to pay for it after the fact. It is not uncommon for patients to pay for medical expenses through a payment plan. Even individuals with insurance coverage have high medical bills, copays, and other out-of-pocket fees. 

Contact the hospital’s billing department to learn more about payment programs. Many debt collectors or individuals in billing departments are interested in working with people who want to pay their bills. Be sure to read the fine print though; some payment plans charge interest.  

5. Claim medical expense deductions on your taxes

Qualified medical expenses can be tax-deductible. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), deems many medical treatments, including dental, eye care, surgery, and even preventative care as tax-deductible. Medications, glasses, dentures, hearing aids, and other medical devices can be tax-deductible as well. 

The IRS also considers travel expenses in your vehicle, parking fees, bus fares, and so on to be deductible medical expenses. All of these additional expenses can add up. If you’re self-employed, you’re able to claim all of your health insurance premium payments, too, which might be an incentive to enroll in a health insurance plan.

As of 2020, medical expenses exceeding 10% (formerly 7.5%) of the individuals or household adjusted gross income (AGI) are deductible. Consult an accountant if you have excessive medical bills and expenses.

Who can help with medical bills

Patient assistance programs and grants

Financial assistance programs for medical debt may be available through the hospital or other local organizations. Inquire to see if there are any grants or medical relief funds for which you are qualified. Samaritan Health Services, UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation, and HealthWell Foundation are just three of the many nonprofit organizations that offer financial help to individuals and families with medical expenses. 

Eligibility is often income-based, so you may need to submit financial information, including pay stubs or tax return information, as part of your application process. 

Charitable funds can reduce and sometimes even completely cover a medical bill. So, if you or someone you know is struggling to pay for medical expenses, look for grants through local churches and nonprofit organizations, as well as national groups online. A good samaritan fund may also be available at the health center where you received treatment. 

Medicaid

If you have a low income, are a senior citizen, or have medical expenses beyond what you can pay, you might qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid is a government-funded program. Medicaid could pay for part or all of the medical treatments and prescriptions that you need. While you may be eligible to receive back payment for procedures prior to being approved, you can rest assured that future treatments and medications would be covered reducing your overall medical costs.

SingleCare

Prescription medication is often pricey for the uninsured. Prescription drug spending will increase by approximately 6.3% per year from 2016 to 2025, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). One way to save on prescription costs is through a savings service like SingleCare. SingleCare can save you up to 80% on your medicine, and it’s completely free. 

There are other ways to save money when it comes to medication. Healthcare providers often carry samples of prescription medications. Asking your provider for a free sample could save you money. You can also inquire about alternative or generic forms of your medicine. Your medical provider or pharmacist may be able to help you find an affordable solution to expensive medication.

Lastly, pharmacy pricing is not all the same. Shop around. A nearby pharmacy could carry your medicine at a considerably lower price. Search for your prescription and enter your zip code on singlecare.com to find the pharmacy near you with the best price for your prescription.

What happens if you can’t pay your medical bills?

Unfortunately, despite their efforts, many individuals cannot afford their medical bills. Medical expenses are the number one reason why people in the U.S. go bankrupt. Eventually, delinquent or unpaid medical bills are sent to a collection agency. 

Do medical bills affect your credit?

If medical bills are not being paid, being minimally paid, or not being paid on time, they can be turned over to a collection company. The collection agency will notify you of the transfer of debt and provide 180 days from the notification date before informing the credit bureau of the debt. Once the credit bureau acknowledges the unpaid medical bills in their system, your credit score will reflect your outstanding medical debt. 

Medical bills will remain on a credit report for seven years. Even though medical debt can be removed from credit history, you are still legally bound to pay the debt. That is unless you file bankruptcy. 

Can you file for bankruptcy on medical bills?

Filing for bankruptcy may feel like an unwanted stigma, but you wouldn’t be alone. Nearly 62% of bankruptcies in America are related to medical issues, according to The American Journal of Medicine. Medical debt-related bankruptcies are filed under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. The Bankruptcy Code considers medical debt similar to credit card debt. In other words, medical and credit debt are unsecured debts that you don’t need to pay back if you claim bankruptcy. 

In most cases, filing for bankruptcy does not require you to have a lawyer, but it is highly recommended. When filing for bankruptcy, you will need to provide all of your household or family income, including your spouse’s income. Other information regarding your personal property, vehicles, real estate, will need to be reported. You will also have to disclose any recent sales or transfers of property, incomes, and debts as part of the process. 

Bankruptcy affects your credit regardless of the reason behind it. Your credit rating will drop, and the bankruptcy will appear on your credit record for seven to 10 years. For this reason, you may want to consider bankruptcy as a last option.

Medical expenses can be a difficult burden that can make you feel frustrated and hopeless. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you are struggling with paying your medical bills, seek help sooner rather than later. You have plenty of options to get help with medical bills.