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Addressing medical debt: Negotiation or consumer bankruptcy?

Many Maryland consumers are struggling under a mountain of medical debt. Whether through accident or illness, medical care can result in significant expenses. It can be difficult to overcome that financial burden, no matter how hard a consumer tries. In some cases, patients are able to negotiate their medical debt down to a manageable level. For others, consumer bankruptcy is the only path back to financial stability.

Few people realize that they have the ability to negotiate with medical care providers. They receive a stack of bills and assume that they are obligated to pay the full amount listed. In reality, however, medical bills can be negotiated, and many consumers are able to reduce the overall cost of their care through savvy negotiation strategies.

It helps to begin with an understanding of just how much each aspect of treatment should cost. One's insurance provider can provide a list of the average cost of various procedures, and there are also websites that offer that information. Armed with proof of the "standard" cost of care, consumers have a good chance of negotiating a lower bill.

Negotiation works best when completed ahead of the actual procedure. At that point, patients can take their business elsewhere, and the provider will have to weigh the risk of losing that business over accepting a lower payment for service. Of course, when an emergency strikes there is no time for negotiations, and patients are left with no choice but to challenge the costs after they have already received the care.

Maryland residents should make an effort to try and negotiate the cost of their medical care, and offer to pay down medical debt at a lower rate than their bills show. In some cases, however, no degree of effort will suffice to reduce medical debt to a manageable level. In those instances, a better path out of debt may lie in consumer bankruptcy.

Source: dallasnews.com, "Negotiate your medical bills down", Cameron Huddleston, Jan. 20, 2016

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