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Health care credit cards might be driving up medical debt

Even with insurance, the cost of accessing medical care is a barrier that many people in Tennessee face. As a solution, some doctors' offices now offer medical credit cards, giving patients lines of credit on which to charge their related bills. Unfortunately, this approach may drive some even further into medical debt.

Putting medical bills on an existing credit card is not a new phenomenon, but many medical professionals now offer credit cards specifically for this purpose. These lines of credit usually offer deferred interest and are presented as smart options for patients who cannot pay the full price upfront. However, some experts believe that these cards are predatory and may actually exacerbate people's financial problems.

The majority of these credit cards may offer deferred interest for as long as 18 months, during which zero interest accrues on the balance. Following this period, interest rates skyrocket -- usually into double digits -- and often affect the balance retroactively, quickly accruing a sizable debt. These details tend to be glossed over, and some patients never receive paperwork explaining these details. Instead, they must rely on verbal information from office assistants. In some instances, patients were led to believe that they were signing up for a payment plan rather than opening an entirely new line of credit.

Across the country, 33 percent of people struggle to repay medical debt. No one should have to choose between receiving necessary medical care and keeping one's debt to a reasonable amount, but patients in Tennessee make these kinds of choices every day. For those trapped in an ongoing cycle of debt, interest and harassing creditors, bankruptcy can help lay the foundation for a more secure financial future.

Source: wral.com, "Medical credit cards can mean aches and pains for patients", Matthew Perrone, Jan. 10, 2018

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