What Are the Consequences of Not Paying Medical Bills?

iEditorial Note: These blog posts represent the opinion of DoNotPay’s Writers, but each person’s situation and circumstances vary greatly. As a result, you should make sure to do your own independent research. Because everyone is unique, our self-help tools are never guaranteed to help with any specific situation. DoNotPay is not a law firm, is not licensed to practice law, and is not equivalent to the services of a licensed lawyer. DoNotPay provides a platform for legal information and self-help, and does not offer legal services. Third party news articles mentioned on our website do not necessarily reflect the views of the company, or the current services that we offer.

Beware of the consequences of not paying medical bills

Did you know that, according to CNBC, 137 million Americans are struggling with medical debt? Health insurance is not enough to cover exorbitant medical expenses, so people all around the country find it challenging to afford medical services. As a result, many tend to postpone going to the doctor. Those that do seek medical attention usually end up being burdened with debt.

If you are in a similar situation, you are probably worried about the consequences of not paying medical bills. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place—we are here to tell you all about the actions taken when someone doesn’t settle their medical bill. We will also suggest some ideas to help you prevent the worst-case scenario. For a start, you can count on DoNotPay to give you a hand with all those massive bills.

DoNotPay can help you deal with bills

Since you’re already struggling with exorbitant medical expenses, we assume that you would like to get some help for free. Here’s the good news—with DoNotPay, you don’t have to spend a single penny. Whatever issue you might have with medical bills, you can use our app and solve the problem in just a few steps. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Log in to your account via a
  2. Type “medical bills” when asked about the bills you’re struggling with
  3. Tell us a little bit about your current situation and what’s causing the problem
  4. Leave the required personal information (full name, address, email, etc.)

That’s it! All the rest is up to us to handle. You can relax and wait for our confirmation. No matter what kind of help you need, you can expect the job to be done within 48 hours.

What happens when you fail to pay your medical bill

Be it because of limited resources or just current financial hardship, you may not be able to cover your medical bills. If the billing statement arrives and you realize that the total amount is too high for your budget, there’s no need to panic. Even though you can eventually be taken to court for unsettled medical debt, they will first take some less radical measures. Here’s what to expect:

  1. You will be charged late fees
  2. Your medical provider can hire a collection agency
  3. Your credit score will suffer
  4. They can take you to court
  5. You cannot go to jail for an unpaid medical bill

You will be charged late fees

When you postpone payment, you are only making it more and more expensive—when you miss the due date, you become subject to late fees or interests. If you let these add up, your bill can eventually be even bigger than it was initially.

Depending on the state you’re living in, you might be lucky enough to avoid penalty fees. In some states, medical providers are banned from charging these fees, so make sure you check how this issue is regulated where you live. Here are some of the states that limit the hospitals in terms of charging late fees:

  • California
  • Minnesota
  • New York
  • Illinois

If the hospital in question is allowed to charge late fees, you should be able to find that piece of information in terms of service. For that reason, it’s important that you keep all the paperwork they give you.

Your medical provider can hire a collection agency

If time goes by and you still don’t settle the debt, your healthcare provider might be forced to hire a collection agency to deal with you. In most cases, a debt collection agency takes over if you’re three months past the payment due date. Debt collectors will work even harder to make you settle the debt—it is their job to do so. You shouldn’t expect them to let go, and avoiding their calls and continuing to neglect your debt can only make things worse for you.

Your credit score will suffer

When your debt goes into collection, you have 180 days before a credit bureau reports it as past due. When that happens, your debt will appear in your credit report, which will immediately affect your credit score. Once there, medical debt will remain in your credit report for as long as seven years.

They can take you to court

The longer you wait, the more rigorous they will get, so don’t be surprised if a debt collection agency warns you of taking action against you—they are allowed to do so. Your medical provider can send demand letters to you for an unpaid bill, in which case the court decides on the punishment. One of the most common measures is wage garnishment. This means that they will take a certain amount of money off your income regularly until the debt is settled.

You cannot go to jail for an unpaid medical bill

Since your accumulated medical bill is a civil debt, you cannot be sent to jail for the debt itself. However, you need to know that you can go to jail if you ignore the court order, so make sure you never do that.

How to deal with a debt collection agency

In case you don’t gather enough money to pay the bill in some reasonable time, and a collection agency takes over, you need to be prepared. Dealing with debt collectors can be unpleasant, but you can make this encounter less stressful if you take the following steps:

Steps to takeHow to take them
Learn as much as you can about debt collectorsIs this your first time dealing with a debt collection agency? If so, you probably don’t know much about the way collection agencies operate. Make sure you change that as soon as possible by doing some research about your assigned debt collector. Find out more about regulations determining what they are allowed to do in your particular situation.
Keep a paper trailTo be completely sure that a debt collection agency can’t wrong you in any way, you should record everything you do. Keep a paper trail of every payment you’ve ever made, so they can’t charge you more than you actually owe. Even if they don’t try to wrong you on purpose, there might be some kind of misunderstanding or error on their part. You can easily clear everything out when you have proof, so don’t throw away anything that has to do with your debt progress.
Make a counterofferIf you have enough resources to cover at least some part of the total amount for a start, don’t jump to the conclusion that they only accept full payments. On the contrary—many collection agencies are open for compromise. Talk to them about the possibility of settling a part of the debt first, and then the rest of it within a reasonable time frame. Many debt collectors would rather receive something than nothing, at least for the time being.

Check for errors before you neglect a suspiciously massive bill

Mistakes are rather common in medical bills. From incorrect billing information to the wrong diagnosis, there are quite a few errors that can make your bill much bigger than it should be. For that reason, it is advisable that you always carefully analyze the statement and be on the lookout for errors before you make the payment. Here are some of the most common examples:

  1. Incorrect diagnosis
  2. Services you’ve never received
  3. Duplicate charges
  4. Charges that should be covered by your health insurance
  5. Inaccurate surgery duration (if you’ve had surgery)

How to prevent medical bill collection

Just because your income is insufficient for those enormous medical expenses, that doesn’t mean that you should neglect the bill and wait for a collection agency to take you to court. There are various options for those struggling with medical bills, including the following:

  • Asking for a special payment plan
  • Checking whether you qualify for a discount
  • Asking for financial assistance

Asking for a special payment plan

One of the most common ways to negotiate an exorbitant medical bill is to ask for a payment plan. Many medical providers offer a wide range of payment plans for people with different needs. You need to contact yours and explain your situation so that you can figure out the best solution that will work for both of you. If they approve a special payment plan, you’ll be able to pay the debt in several equal payments over a couple of months. That way, even if you’re on a tight budget, it will be manageable to cover the full amount before a collection agency takes over. Don’t forget to ask if there are any additional fees associated with the payment plans on offer to be completely sure that you are, in fact, picking the more affordable solution.

Checking whether you qualify for a discount

Another excellent solution is to ask for a discount. Many people don’t expect to find any discount schemes for medical services, but these are actually quite common. Some medical providers offer a discount if you pay the full amount at once. You don’t have to pay it immediately, but you do have to cover the entire bill in one payment to qualify for this discount. You’ll have even greater chances of a discount if you pay in cash.

Another option to lower your bill this way is if you belong to one of the following groups:

  • Single mothers
  • People with disabilities
  • The elderly
  • Military service members
  • Low-income families

Asking for financial assistance

Speaking of low-income families and other groups of people entitled to special treatment, we should also mention a variety of organizations where you can ask for financial assistance. There are many places where you can get help when you’re struggling with medical bills, but keep in mind that each has specific eligibility requirements. Make sure you contact your chosen organization to check whether you qualify for the help they offer. Here are some of the best options:

Organizations How they help those in need
MedicaidIf you don’t have health insurance and you come from a low-income family, make sure you apply for Medicaid. This is the most popular organization that helps people struggling to afford medical attention.
Medicare If you are looking for help for the elderly and people with disabilities, you should consider Medicare. Patients with end-stage renal disease are also eligible for this program.
Patient Access Network (PAN)If you can’t afford to buy the necessary prescribed medications, you can apply for the PAN program. People with chronic or severe conditions are the top priority. You are eligible even if you have health insurance.

Let DoNotPay request an extension on your behalf

The minute you realize that you can’t pay your medical bill, it’s time to do something about it. If there’s not enough time to wait for financial help, you can “buy” some more time by requesting an extension date. Many people do this, and just as many providers allow it, as long as you have a solid reason why you need an extension. Should you decide to go down this road, you can do this:

  • In person
  • Via phone
  • Via letter

Going to your medical provider to deal with this in person may be somewhat inconvenient, especially if you need to rest after the treatment. Calling customer support is usually time-consuming. This leaves you with an extension letter.

If you’ve never sent one before, you don’t even know how to start. Luckily, you don’t have to go through any trouble to learn anything about it—DoNotPay has got you covered. You can rely on our app to generate an extension letter and send it on your behalf. Your part of the job is quite simple. Once you explain on what grounds you’re asking for an extension and leave us your personal information, all the rest is on us.

Ask your healthcare provider to waive late fees

Another convenient option you should think about is asking for a waiver on late fees for your unpaid bills. Getting all late fees can be of great help when you have exorbitant medical bills piled up. If you think that you qualify for a waiver, do not hesitate to ask your provider. You’ve got nothing to lose, right? To do this, you can choose from the following options:

  • Asking for a waiver in person
  • Hiring a lawyer or financial advisor
  • Calling customer support
  • Sending a letter

Once again, the best way to go about it is to send a letter. While asking an expert for help does come with undeniable advantages, this is the most expensive option, and you’re trying to cut costs, right? When you use DoNotPay, you can get the job done efficiently. We only need you to tell us a bit more about your problem and why you’re asking for a waiver. You will also need to give us your personal information necessary to include in the letter. We will let you know as soon as we compose the waiver letter and send it on your behalf. You can expect the entire process to be completed in up to two days.

Should you use a credit card to pay medical bills?

Many hospitals give the option of paying by credit card, but that doesn’t mean that you should necessarily use it. In some cases, it is a good idea to pay with plastic. For instance, if you want to pay the full amount at once to get a discount and you don’t have enough cash, using your credit card is an excellent solution. It can also come in handy when they don’t accept checks.

You need to remember, though, that using your credit card improperly can seriously damage your credit score. By improperly, we mean too frequently and for bills that are too massive.

Is it advisable to apply for a loan to pay your medical debt?

When those huge medical bills start piling up, many people feel tempted to apply for a loan and get it over with. You need to remember that this is hardly ever an option worth considering. A loan allows you to settle those accumulated bills, but it still doesn’t get you out of debt. And this type of debt is even worse, as it’s always more difficult to pay off a loan. When you take interest rates into consideration, you can see that it is much more expensive to pay off a loan in the long run.

DoNotPay Protects Your Privacy and Finances

Sharing your credit card details online comes with certain risks, and it’s getting more difficult to tell good and bad websites apart. With DoNotPay’s virtual credit card generator, you will be able to protect your identity and bank account from cyber scammers.

Whenever you run into a suspicious email or website, generate a virtual credit card and proceed without worries. Our virtual cards also work like a charm if you want to avoid automatic payments after free trials.

Other potential issues where DoNotPay can save you from trouble

If you’re wondering whether there’s something else our app can help you with, you’ll be glad to hear that we have quite a few other services to offer. From bills to traffic tickets, there’s a wide range of potentially problematic situations in which DoNotPay can give you a hand. Here are some other things that we’ll be happy to do for you:

Frequently Asked Questions

I’m A Physician. What Can I Do About Patients Not Paying Medical Bills?

If you’re a doctor and you often find that several uninsured patients aren’t paying bills, the most likely reason why is because they can’t afford to pay you. To help keep the business afloat, getting them to pay is crucial, and there are several avenues you can take to make sure you get your compensation.

Firstly, you can tell your patients how much they need to pay in advance, such as during the initial appointment. While some see this as bad etiquette, you’ll give patients more time to provide payments by knowing how much they have to pay long before they need to — similar to a quote or estimate.

Secondly, you can work out a payment plan with your patient. This involves your patient paying off portions of the bill every month or quarter. While this can take the patient a long time to pay you back in full, it’s more patient-friendly than having them pay in one lump sum right away.

Finally, you can suggest the patient look towards getting a loan from a financial organization, in either the public or private sector. When a patient does this to pay you, you get your money in full, and the patient will then have to pay back the lender. The lender likely will set up a payment plan with the patient.

Do I Have To Pay Hospital Bills Before Discharge?

In some circumstances, you are allowed to leave the hospital without paying your bill. But if hospitals have policies in place that prohibit you from freely leaving the facility, you likely have to work out some sort of financial agreement before you’re allowed to leave. If you’re not sure about what’s supposed to happen with your hospital, there should be a payment policy your hospital has somewhere on its website.

Can You Go To Jail For Not Paying Medical Bills?

Serving jail time for not paying medical bills is highly unlikely. Most physicians and healthcare facilities will often go in one of several other alternatives for collecting their payments.

Firstly, the physician might suggest imposing late fees or increasing interest rates. This means the longer you wait to pay, the more you will end up paying.

The physician might also resort to setting up a deal with a lender, which you’d have to now pay. The lender gives your doctor the money you owe, and in return, you have to pay back the lender, usually with an incremental payment plan. Finally, the physician could take action against you. This could result in either a settlement between you and the healthcare practice or a court-ordered garnishment imposed until the bill is entirely paid off. A garnishment is a deduction in your work paychecks that goes to the doctor.

How Long Do I Have To Pay A Medical Bill?

If you’re free to leave the hospital without paying, the typical time you need to pay a medical bill is 30 days from the date of the visit or procedure.

However, the time it may take for a hospital, physician, lender, or debt collector to take action for an unpaid bill can vary depending on the state’s statute of limitations (SOL). The state with the most lenient SOL is Ohio at 15 years. A few states such as South Carolina or Delaware only give parties 3 years.

If your state’s SOL lapses before action is taken on an unpaid bill, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook on paying anymore. It only means you’re no longer responsible for the debt, but can still be contacted regarding the payment. Think of the SOL as protection so you have the time and resources necessary to pay off your bill.

How Often Do Hospitals Send Demand Letters To For Unpaid Bills?

According to a sample study from Kaiser Health News, two out of three hospitals in the US send demand letters to patients for unpaid medical bills, which usually result in garnishing wages or debt being transferred over to debt collectors.

Can I Get Threatening Letters Or Phone Calls For Not Paying Medical Bills?

When you owe money to a medical practice or debt collector, there are a number of things that people you may owe money to aren’t allowed to do to you. This includes calling and writing to you repeatedly about unpaid payments.

As outlined by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), debt collectors do not have rights to call you during work or unsolicited hours, threaten you, show hostility, use profanity, blackmail you, or disclose your financial situation to others. The debt collector might still call you within their right to do so just to talk about your financial situation, but if you tell him or her you don’t want any more phone calls, they’ll oblige to give you time to gather payments or work out a debt negotiation process.

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