How medical debt happens – and what you can do to avoid it
By Maureen Mahoney on Wednesday, December 31st, 2014
This open enrollment season, Consumers Union is working to give consumers the tools they need to sign up for a health insurance plan that suits their needs. Countless consumers have told us that their plan didn’t cover their bills when they needed it most – causing them to fall into medical debt. According to a new report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a staggering 43 million consumers currently have past due medical debt on their credit report.
Medical debt occurs when a consumer is unaware of or unable to pay a doctor or hospital bill. Increasingly, healthcare providers send these bills to collection agencies, who typically report them to the major credit bureaus. Once an unpaid bill in collections ends up on a consumers’ credit report, it can dramatically lower a consumer’s credit score – making it more difficult or more expensive to get a loan. Credit card companies may raise a consumer’s interest rates, and auto and homeowners’ insurers could raise monthly premiums.
Consumers have reported that having an appropriate healthcare plan can make all the difference. Brie from Seattle, Washington shared with us the importance of adequate insurance:
“My partner’s cancer returned last year, and she received extensive radiation, chemo, physical therapy, and other treatments – all for a total of $2,500 a year on top of our reasonable premiums. She died this summer, but it wasn’t from lack of good care – and after the last five weeks of hospitalization and then hospice care, I was left with no medical debt. Losing her has been devastating for me, and I can’t imagine how people who also have to cope with financial difficulties resulting from a loved one’s final illness manage. I’m very grateful for our good coverage, and I’m going to hold on to it tightly!”
While finding the right plan can be tricky, Consumers Union has created a wealth of materials that can help you to choose. Click here to view our resources for California consumers shopping for health insurance. If you live in another state, please click here.
Have you encountered any problems when signing up for health insurance? Or have you had a positive experience? Please share your story with us!