What to Do If You Can’t Afford Your Medical Bills?

Getting medical care in the United States can be really expensive. Many people worry about how they’ll pay for doctor visits, hospital stays, or treatments. 

But don’t let money fears stop you from getting the care you need. There are ways to make healthcare more affordable.

We got help from cost experts at CostTally.com to create this guide. We’re very thankful for their input on ways to lower medical bills.

Why Medical Bills Are Such a Big Problem

In the U.S., worrying about medical costs is very common. A survey found that 65% of Americans are worried about surprise medical bills. This fear makes sense – about 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. have medical debt.

But there’s good news. No matter how big your bills are or what kind of insurance you have (even if you don’t have any), there are ways to:

  • Lower your debt
  • Set up payments you can handle
  • Cut future health care costs

Let’s look at some ways to deal with medical bills you already have, and how to keep costs down for care you need in the future.

How to Make Medical Bills You Already Have More Affordable?

Maybe you just got a big bill from a trip to urgent care. Or a planned procedure costs way more than you thought it would. Try these tips to lower the total or the amount you have to pay yourself.

1. Check for Mistakes

The very first thing to do when you get any medical bill is look for errors. This is important whether you have insurance or not.

How to check your bill:

  • Ask for an itemized list of all services
  • Look for things listed twice by mistake
  • Make sure you actually got all the services listed

Why this matters: About half of all medical bills have mistakes in them. These errors can cost you a lot of extra money.

If you have insurance, also check your “Explanation of Benefits” papers. These show what your insurance will pay and what you owe. If the numbers don’t match your bill, there might be a mistake.

What to do if you find an error: Call your medical provider (not your insurance company). Tell them the bill doesn’t match what your insurance says you should pay. They should take off any wrong charges.

2. Ask for Financial Help and Try to Negotiate

Once you know your bill is correct, see if you can get help paying it.

Financial aid programs:

  • Most hospitals and health centers have these
  • They can lower your bill or even cover all of it
  • Available even if you don’t have insurance

How to apply:

  • Go to the hospital’s website
  • Search for “financial assistance”
  • Follow their steps to apply

Tip: Even if you think you make too much money, apply anyway. Explain your situation in detail. Show why the charges are too much for you to pay.

If you can’t get financial aid, try negotiating:

  • Offer to pay part of the bill right away for a discount
  • Ask about lower monthly payments over a longer time

Warning: Don’t use credit cards to pay medical bills. The high interest rates mean you’ll end up paying even more in the long run.

3. Look for Outside Help

Your medical provider isn’t the only place to get financial help.

Other places to check:

  • Local churches
  • Community non-profits
  • Organizations that help with specific health issues

These groups might help pay medical bills directly. Or they could help with other costs like rent or childcare, freeing up money for your medical bills.

Tip: Use the National Patient Advocate Foundation’s financial aid directory to find help. You can search by:

  • State
  • Medical condition
  • Type of help needed

How to Lower Costs for Future Medical Care

Now let’s look at ways to cut costs for medical care you know you’ll need soon.

For Regular Check-ups

Most insurance plans cover yearly check-ups. But you might still have to pay some costs.

To keep costs down:

  • Use your insurance company’s website to find in-network doctors
  • If you don’t have insurance, look for community health clinics
    • These often have free or low-cost services
    • They also often provide prenatal care and baby vaccines

For Medical Procedures

If you know you need surgery or another big procedure:

  1. Apply for financial aid ahead of time • You can even apply at different hospitals to compare offers
  2. Look for in-network doctors and medical centers
  3. Ask for a “Good Faith Estimate” • This tells you how much your procedure will cost before it happens • You have the right to get this whether you have insurance or not • If your final bill is $400 more than the estimate, you can dispute it

Tip: Get the Good Faith Estimate in writing. This makes it easier to challenge surprise charges later.

For Having a Baby

Most insurance plans have to cover childbirth. But you might still have some costs.

If you’re pregnant and don’t have insurance:

  • Call 1-800-311-BABY (2229) for info on free or low-cost prenatal care
  • Check with Planned Parenthood for affordable options
  • Apply for financial aid at hospitals, just like for other procedures

For Ongoing Care (Like Physical Therapy)

If you need regular treatments:

  1. Try to get care at a hospital instead of a separate clinic • It’s easier to use one financial aid plan for all your care
  2. Look for organizations that help with your specific condition • Example: The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society helps people with blood cancer
  3. Ask about discounts for paying part of your care costs upfront
  4. See if you can work with a patient advocate • They can help with billing and insurance issues

For Mental Health Care

To make therapy more affordable:

  1. Use your insurance to find in-network therapists
  2. Look for non-profits that help cover therapy costs • Examples: American Psychoanalytic Association, Mental Health America
  3. Try online therapy • Often cheaper than in-person visits
  4. Ask about “sliding scale” payments • The price is based on what you can afford


Health care in the U.S. is expensive. But don’t let money worries keep you from getting the care you need. There are many ways to lower your costs:

  • Check bills for mistakes
  • Ask for financial help
  • Look for outside resources
  • Plan ahead for future care

Remember, it’s okay to ask for help. Your health is important, and there are people and organizations ready to assist you with medical costs.

FAQs About Affording Medical Bills

Q: What if I can’t pay anything on my medical bill? A: Talk to the hospital’s financial aid office. Many have programs to forgive all or part of your bill if you truly can’t pay.

Q: Can medical bills affect my credit score? A: Yes, unpaid medical bills can hurt your credit. But new rules give you more time to deal with them before they show up on your credit report.

Q: Is it better to use a credit card or a payment plan for medical bills? A: A payment plan directly with the medical provider is usually better. They often have low or no interest, unlike credit cards.

Q: What if I’m billed for a service my insurance was supposed to cover? A: Call your insurance company first. There might be a mistake in how the claim was filed. If not, you may need to appeal the decision.

Q: Are there any government programs to help with medical bills? A: Yes, programs like Medicaid and Medicare can help. There are also state and local programs. A social worker at the hospital can often help you find these.

Remember, dealing with medical bills can be tough, but you have options. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and explore all your choices for making health care more affordable.

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