Are you trying to pay off a mountain of medical debt? It can feel hopeless, discouraging, and overwhelming to say the least. I have been there, my friend. Let me tell you a story…
The year that sucker punched us…
Have you ever had a season in life where you feel like you’ve had the wind knocked out of you, only to have the bully hoist you up by the collar of your shirt and sucker punch you again?
That was 2016-2017 for me.
I won’t assume that you care to know every detail, so I’ll give you the abbreviated version.
Our second child entered the world in a rather dramatic fashion that left my poor husband fearful that he was going to lose one or both of us. (Spoiler alert – we both ended up being fine).
Then when she was a newborn she ended up in the PICU with complications from RSV, among other things, and was in septic shock. She spent her first Christmas and New Years in the hospital fighting for her life. Praise be to God, she recovered and was discharged from the hospital a couple of weeks later with almost no evidence of the extreme trauma her little body had just been through.
Right before she had been hospitalized I had surgery, and one of our cars broke down. We hadn’t had time to deal with getting it fixed before she got sick. The day after we got her home from the hospital, my son got sick. Then my husband got the flu. Then our other car broke down. On top of all that, our family had some significant other stressors going on in our lives all at the same time. What a way to ring in the new year.
Moving forward into 2017, I carried this really odd dichotomy of emotions in me. On one hand I was just SO thankful to have my daughter in my arms and very aware of how close I came to losing her. On the other hand, I felt quite traumatized by the entire season. And I still lacked answers and solutions for some of the other chronic stressors we were facing at the time.
Then the mountain of medical debt came into view…
Let’s suffice it to say that we met our out of pocket max for our insurance for both 2016 and 2017.
And we had no way to pay it.
I hated getting the mail and facing the numbers that were in big, bold print with red borders around them.
I hated when my phone would ring.
I never answered numbers I didn’t recognize.
I felt shame.
I felt like we were drowning in a sea of medical debt we could never get out of.
It felt like we would be trying to pay off a mountain of medical debt for the rest of our lives.
I felt hopeless.
But the one thing I had was God.
And I cried out to Him.
It’s awkward for me to be this vulnerable, but I feel that someone out there needs to hear this. Are you trying to pay off a mountain of medical debt that you accumulated from circumstances beyond your control? Can I share the practical and humbling lessons I learned from that season with you?
Six Steps to Take When You’re Trying to Pay Off a Mountain of Medical Debt:
1. In seasons that are hopeless and confusing, you have to do everything you can to feed your hope.
Listen to worship music, meditate on verses, journal, actively turn your mind and thoughts to good things. It is so easy to let your thoughts turn toxic and to ruminate in those discouraging and hopeless seasons. You MUST fight that. Take every thought captive and bring it into obedience to Christ.
2. Know that the seasons of “not enough” are exactly where God shows up.
Don’t curse your not enough. It is the grounds for a miracle. I encourage you to watch this message by Christine Cain.
3. If you are trying to pay off a mountain of medical debt, start by applying for whatever financial aid programs the hospital has.
Before this experience I did not realize that some hospitals are non-profits. Thankfully, our children’s hospital was a non-profit. These hospitals have a much greater ability to write off massive portions of your bill thanks to the charitable contributions of their donors. Something to note is that you may have several different bills – some of the providers seen in the hospital are actually contracted with the hospital, rather than being employees of the hospital. You will need to call each provider that you have a separate bill for and ask them what their financial assistance process is like and how to go about applying. Hospitals that are for profit hospitals have a much harder line when it comes to financial assistance. During that fun little season in our lives, we had several other significant medical events in our family, and had bills from other hospitals as lovely souvenirs. We didn’t even come close to qualifying for assistance from those hospitals, so we had to arrange payment plans with them.
4. If the medical bills are for your child, look into the state funded healthcare programs that might be available to you.
In our state, there is a state subsidized healthcare program that is for children who live in households where the income level is too high for medicaid, but still under a certain threshold. I do not know this from personal experience, but I believe that if you have a significant medical event with a hefty bill attached and you apply for assistance from any state programs that you qualify for right away, there is the potential that they may retroactively help cover the bill. You have to make it clear when you are applying that you have outstanding medical bills and you need the coverage to be retroactive to include the date/dates of the treatment.
5. While you are working on steps 3 & 4, be sure to let the billing department at the hospital or medical facility know what you are working on.
Many times they will put a note in your file and it will keep them from sending it to collections or calling and harassing you while you wait to hear back regarding your financial assistance applications. If you were not able to receive assistance through steps 3 & 4, you will need to make a payment plan for the bill. Call the billing department and tell them that you cannot pay the bill and ask to set up a payment plan. I have had many of them tell me that they have to set up a payment plan that will have the total bill paid within a year. In our circumstance, there was no way we would have been able to do that for every bill that we owed. I was kind, polite, and straightforward with them and told them a dollar amount that I could pay each month. I was adamant with them that it was the most I could pay in light of my other outstanding medical bills and the need to continue to make sure my family had basics like food, a place to live, etc. Also worth noting – these payment plans are typically interest free.
6. If your medical bills have already been sent to collections, know that the collections company has purchased your debt from the hospital at a discounted rate.
They did not pay the hospital the total that you owed. This means that they have the power to negotiate a lower total pay off point with you if you are able to pay it all at once. Call them and ask how much they can write off if you can pay the total bill that day. You can do this even if you have already been paying the collections company on a payment plan. Once the remaining balance is within a dollar amount that you would be able to pay in full, call the company and ask how much of the remainder they can write off if you pay the balance that day.
A few additional notes to consider when you’re trying to pay off a mountain of medical debt:
You need to make your payment plan official.
I have heard that as long as you’re paying something on the medical bill, the hospital cannot send it to collections. I don’t actually think that is true. I have heard from people that were paying a small monthly payment on a medical bill but had not set up an official payment plan with the hospital, and their bill was sent to collections anyway. You need to call the billing department and make your payment plan official.
If your bill was just sent to collections but you were paying on an unofficial payment plan, or you believe there was a mix up with your insurance call the hospital and the collections company right away. There is a period of time where the hospital can pull the bill back from the collections company.
Know that medical debt affects your credit score differently than regular debt.
I am not the expert on this, but if you are facing significant medical debt and you are concerned about your credit take a deep breath and try to relax. You can research this from other sources who are far more knowledgeable of the details of all of it than I.
Expect this process to take time.
Financial assistance applications take time. Making phone calls takes time. And for the love of all that is good, applying for any kind of state benefits takes a whole lot of time. When you already feel discouraged and hopeless, spending time on this is not fun. Get a brownie and a cup of coffee and suck it up and do it anyway. There’s really no good way to make it fun. You just have to do it.
Put your bills in a nice little binder. When you call about a bill, make notes on the back of the bill. Note the date you called, the name of the person you talked to, what was said or agreed upon, and what the confirmation number was if there is one. Ask them to repeat and spell their name if you need to. Once you’ve made a payment, note it on the bill. This is super important if you have a lot of different medical bills. Put a copy of any financial assistance applications in your binder as well. Most applications ask the same general information. Saving your applications will keep you from having to look up the information over and over again. You also will need it, as well as any confirmation that it was submitted, so that you can follow up on the approval status after a period of time has passed.
Whenever you talk to someone on the phone, BE NICE.
Use their name. Ask them how they’re doing. You will get SO MUCH FURTHER if you are kind and charming and act like they are the most helpful person that you’ve come across that day, than if you are rude and abrasive. Realize that the majority of people who talk to them probably are angry so be the opposite of that. It will make them way more likely to do whatever is realistically in their power to help you out.
Don’t forget to pray.
Psalm 62:8 says, “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” He knows what is heavy on your heart right now. He knows what kind of mountains you are facing. If you will lay your heavy heart at His feet and trust Him with your situation, He will show you how much he cares for you. Pray for financial provision, but also pray that He will show you what He is doing in you through this season. Ask him what lessons he wants to teach you right now. God always uses our hard for our good and for His glory if we will let him. Ask him to grant you peace as you walk through this part of your journey.
I still remember how hopeless and overwhelming it felt to look at the file where I kept our medical bills. We were trying to pay off a mountain of medical debt, it felt like it would take years to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But less than eighteen months later, all but one was paid in full. Some of the bills had large chunks that were written off, some we were able to negotiate lower pay-off amounts, and some of the funds had come from unexpected places. It felt like the biggest deal in the world to me at the time, but now I can look back on that season with gratitude. It has given me faith for other seasons. When I have laid before Him other seemingly overwhelming or impossible financial situations, I have been able to remind myself that the God who helped us to pay off that much medical debt over such a short time is the same God who is ready and able to help me with my next seemingly impossible circumstance.