How to Handle Unexpected Medical Bills


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Written by: Guest | Best Company Editorial Team

Last Updated: February 24th, 2020

Topics: Budget Smart

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Medical emergencies are bound to happen. Medical costs are on the rise, and insurance companies are doing less to foot the bill. Whether you have medical insurance or not, you may be wondering how you can cover medical emergencies. How can you plan for something that you didn’t even know was going to happen?

In an ideal world, you can pay the bill using an emergency fund — money that you’ve purposefully set aside for unplanned expenses in your life.

However, 30 percent of American households don't even have $1,000 in savings. Even if you think you do have enough in savings, you still might not have enough saved up to pay these unexpected bills.

What can you do to handle unexpected medical bills? Here are a few options available to you to cover these expenses:

  • Credit cards
  • Personal loans
  • Payment plans
  • Bankruptcy

Before choosing one of these options, you should consider the advantages and disadvantages of each to determine if it’s the best fit to take care of your medical bills. That way you’ll be able to narrow down which one(s) might be the best option for your situation.

However, before you start dealing with your unexpected medical bills, you should always review your medical statements for accuracy and ask your medical provider for a discount.

Review your bill

You should never assume that the bills you receive from your medical provider are completely accurate. Ask for an itemized statement for your records. An itemized statement provides you the opportunity to make sure that everything on your bill is correct. Look for duplicate charges, and make sure you understand what services you’re paying for. Ensure the accuracy of every charge on the statement before you start tackling the bill.

You also need to understand how your health insurance works. You should know what is covered, how much your deductible is, and whether your healthcare provider is in network or out of network. You can find all this information on your insurance plan documents, just make sure you understand the health insurance terms. If you still have questions, contact your insurance company directly.

Inquire about a discount

After you’ve carefully gone through your itemized statement, call the provider to see if they would be willing to negotiate a discount or ask how much you are expected to pay on the bill.

Your success in this matter will depend on the provider you’re going through, but negotiation is a useful tool if you have to deal with out-of-network providers or when your insurance doesn’t cover the bill.

If you can, you should contact the provider as soon as possible; they will be more likely to work with you earlier than later in the collection period. You can start by asking for a 30-35 percent discount and then negotiate with them from there. While it might not always work, you may be able to get some sort of discount. They may also refer you to assistance programs that can offer you aid for paying your medical bills.

Use your savings

Using your savings to pay off an unexpected medical bill is one of the smartest things you can do. It prevents you from getting further into debt. It’s also a quick, easy way to take care of your bills, especially if you have enough money saved up to cover them.

Consider credit cards

Credit cards can be another way to help you pay off medical expenses. There are even specialized medical credit cards to help consumers take care of these medical bills. They often come with an interest-free grace period that lasts anywhere from 6-12 months. This is an excellent choice for anyone who needs time to pay their medical bills.

A great example of a medical credit card is CareCredit. This company offers no interest if the debt is paid within 6, 12, 18, or 24 months. It can be used for just about any medical bill. This is only one example of many medical credit cards, so do your research to see what’s available.

If you don’t want to apply for a medical credit card, then you can just use a regular credit card. Many credit cards offer a 0 percent interest introductory period — typically anywhere from 12-18 months. If you have good credit, then you can probably qualify for one of these. The added bonus is that some of these cards offer rewards, so you can earn cash back or points if you use one to pay your medical bills. You can possibly use these rewards to help you pay off your debt.

Remember that once the 0 percent interest period is up, you’ll have to pay interest on any remaining balances. These interest rates are typically high, unless you qualify for a credit card with a low interest rate.

You should also know that in most cases, putting a substantial medical expense on a credit card can lower your credit score. If your medical bill is the same or almost the same as your credit limit, then your utilization ratio increases. However, you don’t want to default on a medical bill because then it can be sent to collections. This is more damaging to your credit score than a maxed out credit card.

Research personal loans

Personal loans are another great option for paying medical bills, especially if the debt is greater than your credit card limit. You do still have to pay interest on personal loans, but the interest rates on them are typically lower than credit card interest rates. If your credit is good, then you can probably qualify for the amount you want at a satisfactory interest rate. 

Ask about a payment plan

If none of the above options work for you, the best thing to do is talk to your medical provider about options for payment plans.  Many healthcare providers are willing to work with you because they’d rather get their money than sell the debt to a collection agency.

Consider a medical alert system

Regardless of your situation, medical emergencies do happen and you want to be prepared if one happens to you. Consider purchasing a medical alert system so you will be able to get instant help in the case of an emergency.

There are also medical alert providers, such as Mediband,that provide ready-to-wear custom engraved identification alert bracelets that have 24-hour accessible web-based medical information for medical personnel and first responders to access in an emergency. Wearing the medical ID could help you receive the correct treatment in an emergency and help you to avoid complications that could be costly. 

Take action immediately

It doesn’t matter which method you decide to use to pay off your medical bill. The best thing to do is to take action to pay your bills as soon as possible. If you go too long without paying your bills or communicating with your medical provider, then they can be sent to collections.

If you’re ever worried that your medical bills will ruin your credit, you can check your credit reports from the three credit bureaus for free once a year. You can also use’s free credit report card to check your credit scores regularly.

The Top Medical Alert Systems Companies

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#1 Medical Guardian chevron_right
9.4 Overall Score
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#2 MobileHelp chevron_right
9.3 Overall Score
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#3 LifeStation chevron_right
8.3 Overall Score

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