The Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2010, had a significant impact on the number of uninsured people in this country. In addition, following the ACA's implementation, fewer people reported in surveys that they were having problems paying their medical bills.
However, even with health insurance, medical debt can become overwhelming. It only takes one hospital stay or serious illness to rack up thousands of dollars in debt not covered by insurance.
In fact, according to a recently-released report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, more consumers report being contacted by a collection agency regarding medical debt than for any other reason. Of those surveyed between late 2014 and early 2015 who said they'd been called by a debt collector, nearly 60 percent said that it was regarding medical bills.
Medical debt can wreak havoc on an individual's or family's finances. In addition, once a bill has gone to a collection agency, it's also been reported to the credit bureaus. That can damage a person's ability to get credit for some time.
With the ACA now facing repeal by Congress, the situation could get far worse for many Americans. One of the stipulations of the ACA was that non-profit hospitals couldn't report a person to credit bureaus or take other "extraordinary collection actions" such as wage garnishment, property liens or legal action for 120 days from the date of the first billing statement. The ACA also provided a federal standard that all hospitals must follow when reporting medical debt. It remains to be seen if these aspects of the law are kept.
If you're facing medical bills that are beyond your capacity to pay, you may be able to negotiate with your providers to get them to be content with the amount already covered by your insurance or perhaps to arrange a payment plan you can handle. However, it's important to act quickly so that you don't end up having to deal with a collector. An Arizona attorney experienced in helping people deal with medical debt can provide guidance.
Source: NPR, "Medical Debt Is Top Reason Consumers Hear From Collection Agencies," Michelle Andrews, Jan. 24, 2017