Written by Sickle Cell Warrior on 15 November 2012
Question: I am an adult (30 the end of this month) with SC Disease and last month I was hospitalized for 4 days. I am a contractor for a temp agency; however, I do have some sort of medical insurance through the agency. I thought I had better insurance than I do, I recently learned that out of the $31,000 this crisis cost my insurance paid $4,000 of it and I now have $27,000 I owe the hospital. This is on top of a $8,000 bill I owe another hospital from a few years ago because if I would have waited 2 more months my pre-existing condition would have been covered. This is on top of a few hundred I owe in er co-pays. I know you can see the picture I’m painting here and I know some of this was me being very irresponsible. I always thought eventually I would buckle down when I had more money and pay my medical bills but at this point I am wondering what is out there to help me? I see online some things targeted toward parents of children with SC but I am an adult and I would like to know what’s out there for me? I did learn from your site about supplemental insurance for time off from work and that will be helpful when I am a FT employee but as for now, can you offer any advice for the medical debt I have gained?
Hello Warrior. This is such a great question and I’m sure that many of us have experienced this at one time or another. I went through the same thing in 2004. There was nothing I could do, and after a series of illnesses with a poor insurance plan, I ended up with over $50K in debt. Even if I could make that a year, I would have no money to live. I took a few steps that helped me, and maybe some of them could help you and others. If anyone has any other suggestions, please put it in the comment box so we can all learn from each other.
I applied for Medicare/Medicaid immediately. Once I was approved (which took 3 months), they paid for some of the bills retroactively from the date that I applied. Contact the hospital, ask for a case worker, tell them you would like to apply for Medicare. I got rejected the first time, but did it on my second hospitalization, and it helped for when I was sick the rest of that year.
I contacted the hospitals and medical offices, with a letter and phone call explaining my situation, that I could not afford to pay. I asked for a write off, or a decreased amount. I submitted a statement of monthly gross income versus my expenses, to show that I had no extra money to pay for this debt. This has to be done before you are sent to collections. Some places forgave the debt completely, others decreased the amount.
I set up a nominal payment plan for the ones that I could afford. Most places have a policy that you must pay it all within 12 months, so I set up $10-20 payment agreements with the billing departments. This took care of the smaller bills, the ER copays and medical offices. I paid gradually, some for even 5 years. As long as you never miss a payment, they are very flexible, and help you because it’s cheaper for them in the long run to be cooperative than to harass you and never get paid. Stay in contact, if you lose your job, or if you can’t pay one month, call them and beg for an extension.
The larger debts, (that would not accept a pay-down, or payment plan), I let go into collection. I had tried several times with many letters explaining my situation, and if they didn’t care, or do anything about it, they didn’t get my money. They ended up putting it on my credit report, and it sat there for years and years until after 7-8 years, it falls off. I also contacted the Credit Bureaus and made a notation on each of those debts that were on my credit stating Medical Illness. This way, whoever wants to loan you money will see that it was due to Medical issues, and sometimes, they might ignore it, if the rest of your credit report is clean.
I pay all my bills on time, especially my credit cards and loans. This strengthened my credit report, and allowed me to get qualified for a car loan (with an insanely high interest rate). I didn’t mind because this in turn helps to show that I do pay my ‘reasonable’ debts.
What other tips or advice do you have for this situation?