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Do you have medical bills piling up? You aren't alone. Some 20% of U.S. households have medical debt, according to a 2022 report from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB).
As a leading cause of bankruptcy in America, medical debt can cause legal issues along with potentially long-term financial implications. If you find yourself with unpaid medical bills—especially debt that's in collections—you may be feeling stressed out by the calls and letters you're receiving. You may even opt to skip important health care appointments to avoid racking up even more medical debt.
But help may be available if you find yourself buried in hospital bills, and you may even be able to get your medical debt forgiven. From government programs to nonprofits, let's explore some of the resources available to help cover your medical costs.
How Medical Debt Forgiveness Works
Unfortunately, if you do have medical debt, you won't be able to wipe it out completely without paying your balances in full. But understanding how the system works may help you find a solution that gets at least some of your debt forgiven.
Generally, medical debt forgiveness is based on your income, household size and other factors. You can contact your medical provider for more specific qualification requirements.
Typically, hospitals and other health care providers will work with you to reduce your debt. You may also be able to negotiate a lower bill, set up a payment plan or qualify for assistance. There may even be formal programs you can apply for through charities or other organizations.
But remember, even if you're actively making payments on your debt, your medical bills could still end up in collections if you don't pay on time or stick to your payment plan.
How to Get Your Medical Debt Forgiven
If you have medical debt, the best thing to do is to tackle it head on. Here are a few options you can consider.
Hospital Financial Forgiveness Programs
Depending on where you live, there may be laws in your state requiring hospitals to offer some form of need-based assistance. Here are a few key things to know:
- Options vary by state. Individual states have their own laws about assistance that may be available—and they vary greatly. This could include free or discounted care, or in some cases, state-funded financial assistance. Some states may also provide need-based access to community health centers and other free or discounted health care for low-income individuals.
- States make their own rules. While some states have mandates and some may offer financial incentives to hospitals, the majority of states only have optional policies.
- You'll need to financially qualify. Generally these programs are income-restricted, so you may not qualify for help if your income is above a certain level.
- Ask about resources. Because the rules vary so much from state to state, to find out what's available where you live, it's a good idea to check in with your local hospital to see what resources may be available. The National Consumer Law Center also has a full listing of hospital policies by state.
There are a range of nonprofit organizations and charities that may be able to provide financial assistance for your medical bills. Specific options may vary, depending on location and your situation, but here are some to consider:
- Veterans groups: If you're a veteran, you may qualify for financial hardship programs and assistance. You can check with your local Veterans Affairs (VA) office to see what resources may be available. You can also check with other veterans organizations in your area to see what services they may be able to provide, such as USACares or Operation Family Fund.
- Foundations and funds: If you meet specific conditions, such as having a certain disease or illness, you may be able to find an organization that can help with your medical needs. Some examples include the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, CancerCare Co-Payment Assistance Foundation and the PAN Foundation.
- Local businesses and churches: Depending on where you live, you may be able to get some assistance from local organizations or religious groups. Check with your local town hall, social services or area churches to see what may be available.
If you're not sure where to start, check with your local hospital's social worker or billing department to see if they can provide guidance on resources that may make sense for your situation.
Government Assistance Programs
If you qualify, you may be able to get financial assistance with your medical bills through federally funded programs. These programs may include Medicaid (for adults and as part of the Children's Health Insurance Program), Social Security and Medicare, as well as financial assistance programs from state and local agencies in your area.
To see what may be available, check with your local social services department or try dialing 211, a hotline that can help you get information on community resources.
Other Ways to Cover Medical Expenses
If you have concerns about paying for unexpected medical expenses or paying down your hospital bills, consider the following:
- Plan out your health care costs. This may include shopping around for the best price, using funds in a flexible spending account (FSA) or saving up for a big medical expense like a surgery. You can also look into insurance plans that provide the maximum coverage for your healthcare needs.
- Use a medical credit card. You may be able to use a medical credit card to cover certain medical expenses, often with no interest for a certain amount of time. But keep an eye on the terms so you don't end up paying more than you need to.
- Take out a personal loan. If you qualify, a personal loan may be a good option to cover a large medical expense or to consolidate existing medical debt. But remember to make sure you can swing the monthly payments and understand how the interest impacts the total cost of the loan.
- Negotiate your medical debt. If you have hospital and doctor bills piling up, it's worth contacting the provider or hospital to see if they'll work with you. You may be able to get a discount on the rate, especially if you meet certain income requirements or are uninsured. Or you can ask for a payment plan to give you more time to cover your costs. It's also helpful to ask for an itemized bill so you can better understand your medical charges.
Medical debt can be stressful, but knowing your options can help you find ways to reduce your costs or even have some debt forgiven altogether. Health care providers, specialized organizations and government resources are good places to start when you're looking for financial relief from medical bills.