Q&A: Here’s why you shouldn’t put that huge hospital bill on a credit card

Dear Liz: Because of COVID, my 27-year-old son lost his job and health insurance. He was unable to afford continued health insurance and did not qualify for Medicaid. He contracted spinal meningitis and was hospitalized 12 days. The hospital reduced his bill to $28,000 from the original $80,000, but he is still unable to pay. He remains unemployed and without any savings. What would you suggest he do?

Answer: Your son should first call the hospital and ask about applying for financial assistance. Federal law requires nonprofit hospitals to offer this help to low-income patients, and many for-profit hospitals also offer programs that can reduce or even eliminate the charges.

He also should ask about a payment plan geared to what’s left of his income. He should resist any hospital pressure to put the bill on a credit card, because hospital payment plans typically don’t charge interest while credit cards do.

If he’s still left with a bill he can’t pay, he should consult a bankruptcy attorney, and do so as soon as possible. Bankruptcy experts are predicting a big uptick in filings as people and businesses struggle with fallout from the pandemic.

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  1. All medical billing departments seem to be trained to pressure patients to put medical bills on credit cards. I am seeing this more and more, from MD’s to dentists. The billing clerk recently tried very hard to insist we put a huge (over $5,000) dental bill on credit, instead of offering a payment plan. When refused, they tried to sell us dental insurance that was prohibitively expensive–all in an effort to avoid allowing a payment plan. Our family experienced the same pressure when a loved one died, leaving a massive hospital bill. This is especially problematic, because the deceased’s estate is responsible for their bills, not their relatives.