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What are your options if you can't pay your medical bills?

Even if you have good health insurance, a serious illness or injury can leave you with thousands of dollars in bills for co-payments and fees that exceed your plan's coverage. People without a lot of discretionary funds can find themselves in a serious financial predicament -- either having to cut back significantly in other areas to pay these bills or unable to pay them at all.

If you don't believe you'll be able to pay what you owe in a timely manner, it's essential to act sooner rather than later. Otherwise, you could find your credit score seriously impacted.

Of course, you should first ensure that the billing is accurate and that you're not being charged for a treatment or medication you didn't receive. Ask questions if you don't understand a particular charge. The same goes for your insurance. If you believe that something should have been covered, or covered more fully, find out why it wasn't.

Second, offer to negotiate. Many providers are willing to work with people who want to pay as much as they're able. After all, it costs them money to send accounts to collection. If they can get something, even if it's not the full amount owed or not right away, they may be satisfied with that.

Written communication is the best -- don't just call. You want proof of everything that you told them and that was agreed to. Write the person who is/was responsible for your care.

Tell the provider what your financial situation is. If your insurance has already paid a fair amount, ask the provider to consider your bill paid. Have documentation ready to show them how much they've already received.

If the provider refuses to waive the remaining balance, ask if you can work out a payment plan. Suggest a monthly payment that you know you can stick with.

If you owe money to a hospital or other health care facility, find out if that facility is covered under a law called the Hill-Burton Act. You can get this information on the Health Resources and Services Administration website. Under this law, facilities that receive money from the government must provide reduced-cost or free services to people below a certain income level.

If none of these things work or if you're still facing overwhelming medical debt, an Arizona bankruptcy attorney can provide options and guidance.

Source: Bankrate, "How to pay huge medical bills on a small income," Steve Bucci, accessed Nov. 10, 2016

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