When people in Pennsylvania do not have health insurance, they worry about what may happen if they ever fall ill or get rushed to an emergency room. When they do have decent health insurance coverage, they may believe they are covered for just about any worst-case scenario. This may include anything from treating a chronic illness to surgery after an accident.
However, CNN reports that one-third of emergency room visits lead to out-of-network medical bills for patients. More often than not, these do not come from hospitals or emergency facilities. Instead, the bills come from medical professionals, such as doctors. In some states, patients are more likely to get out-of-network bills than others. Texas had the greatest likelihood at 38%, compared to a quarter in California and New York.
For this and other reasons, many Americans find themselves stuck with unexpected medical expenses that they struggle to pay off. Two-thirds of Americans feel at least a little worried about this, while some are extremely anxious over the situation.
More than three-quarters of Americans believe that lawmakers should do something to address these surprise medical expenses. In the summer of 2019, three bills received bipartisan support and were introduced with the hopes of resolving the issue in the foreseeable future.
While patients wait for these laws to potentially pass and take effect, they may also feel the need to tackle existing medical debt. Failure to do so may lead to harassment from creditors and damage to their credit history and score. NPR recommends seeking help as soon as possible. Non-profit hospitals reportedly have a legal requirement to offer financial assistance policies and many other hospitals provide this as well.
When possible, patients should avoid putting medical debt on a credit card. Credit cards provide high-interest debt. These high APR rates might take patients years to catch up with and pay off. NPR recommends retaining the debt as owed directly to the hospital as there may be more medical debt protections offered via this route.