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Medical bills: When the costs are too high to pay

If you can't afford your medical bills, what can you do to make sure you don't end up drowning in debt or having your accounts go to collections? There are several steps to take.

First, remember to look at the bills. They may be high, and you may not want to look, but you need to look at the amount of the bills, the due dates and what you're expected to pay. If the bill goes to collections, you won't be able to negotiate as easily, and any collections will damage your credit.

Review the details of the medical bill when you first open it. Identify any charges you don't recognize or places where you've been charged twice. These errors are more common than you think.

You can negotiate your bills, which is something many people don't realize. If you are a self-pay patient, which means you don't have insurance, you can ask for better rates; sometimes, as a self-paying patient, you'll actually be charged more than those with insurance. If you feel you deserve a lower rate, arm yourself with what the average costs for procedures are and be prepared to offer to make payments in bulk.

You can speak to a billing department manager about setting up a payment plan if you can't afford to pay a bill in full and have already tried negotiating. Tell them what you can afford and go from there. There may also be assistance, either from the state or through hospital charities, that you can use to wipe out or reduce your bills.

If your bill has to go to collections, you and your attorney can negotiate directly with that agency, which may work in your favor when no other negotiations were accepted in the past. Collection agencies want to collect, but they're often willing to cut the cost to obtain as much money up front as possible.

Source: U.S. News & World Report, "What to Do When You Can't Pay Medical Bills," Abby Hayes, accessed June 29, 2016

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