The current pandemic has taken many things from many people. Some have lost jobs, most have struggled with crippling isolation and many have experienced major illness or even the loss of loved ones. Suffering from the often life-altering effects of a COVID-19 diagnosis is bad enough, but many survivors have also been left with enormous medical bills that they are unable to pay. The effects of COVID-19 can be long lasting, and may include partial paralysis and breathing difficulties. Survivors may be struggling to go back to work, care for their children or just get on with their lives. If you or a loved one are struggling with medical debt, here are some recommendations to help you get out from under the crush.
The Medical Bill Problem
Prices for COVID-19 tests and various coronavirus treatments can vary significantly from state to state and even on a community level. Many people are being charged a premium for services rendered. In fact, the New York Times reported that the price of a coronavirus test can vary by as much as 2700% in one emergency room. This virus is not selective about who it infects. The financial impact on those who are already in debt, unemployed or somehow economically disadvantaged can be crushing.
Understand The Rules
If you’re facing a COVID-19 diagnosis, the last thing you should need to think about is the cost of medical services and follow-ups. And you certainly don’t want to opt out of any recommended procedures or prescriptions due to finances. The CARES (The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) act was enacted in part to protect patients from unfair billing practices, but those protections ended last summer. The largest insurance companies, such as Humana and Aetna, have waived “cost-sharing” for people who are hospitalized from COVID-19. Unfortunately, this policy does not extend to all patients, such as those whose companies pay into self-funded insurance programs or those who are hospitalized for secondary conditions related to COVID-19, such as pneumonia or a blood clot. Unfortunately, until new legislation is passed aimed at protecting patients, many victims will be left to navigate the muddy waters of medical billing on their own.
Don’t Ignore Hefty Medical Bills
All hope is not lost when it comes to dealing with significant COVID-19 medical bills. There are several proactive steps you can take to try to improve your financial situation. If you find yourself overwhelmed by medical debt, follow these tips:
- Check for updated laws. Lawmakers are currently negotiating to enact pandemic relief packages. Check with your local, state and federal government to find out if any new protections have been enacted since the start of your illness.
- Review your bill and EOB carefully. Typos and other mistakes occur frequently with medical bills, and can translate to hundreds of dollars of additional charges. Review each bill carefully for any mistakes or duplications and contact the provider right away if you spot anything that looks amiss. Your insurance provider is required by law to supply you with an Explanation Of Benefits (EOB). Compare each medical bill to the EOB and investigate any charges that do not match up exactly.
- Skip the credit card and make a payment plan. Most medical providers offer some type of payment plan for patients who are unable to pay in full right away. Best of all, these plans do not accrue interest. Always opt for an interest-free payment plan from your medical provider instead of paying with a high-interest rate credit card.
- Attempt to negotiate your bill. Review the Healthcare Blue Book to get an idea of what the costs of your services should be. Contact your healthcare provider if you are being charged in excess of an expected amount for a service or procedure.
- Pay in full. Some medical providers will offer a discount for patients who commit to paying their bill upfront in full. If paying in full is an option for you, inquire about a discount.
Look for other sources. If you’re struggling to pay your medical bills, double-check your Health Savings Account (HSA) for Flexible Spending Account (FSA) to see if any funds are available that may be put toward your bills.
- Consider bankruptcy. If you have exhausted other options and find you are taking cash withdrawals against credit cards or cashing out savings or retirement accounts to pay medical bills, then it’s time to step back and evaluate your overall financial situation. Bankruptcy is a legitimate financial tool that can help recover your financial future and wipe your debt slate clean.
Get A Consultation About Bankruptcy
Close to one in three U.S. adults currently has some kind of medical debt, and 28% of those owe $10,000 or more in medical bills. Sadly, these numbers are expected to rise as the cost of medical care has grown at an astronomical rate during the pandemic. If you’re struggling to pay medical bills, speak with our experienced Maryland bankruptcy attorneys to learn more about your options. Our attorneys will spend time understanding your personal situation and will make recommendations based on your unique circumstances. Contact Sirody & Associates at (410) 415-0445.