Medical debt isn’t just bad for financial health. People who have trouble paying their medical bills are more likely to have health issues such as high blood pressure, poorer mental health, and shorter life expectancy, according to research funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Writer, investor, and entrepreneur Joe Cassandra, the owner of Content Marketing Agency, JC-Copy.com, got 1.61 million views on Twitter when he urged readers to negotiate their medical debt.
Cassandra has four children born in hospital including C-sections and multiple-day stays and said he only paid what his wife’s obstetrician required upfront. “I’ve done this for 10 years,” he tweeted. “My credit is stellar.”
The most common direct message he gets is about medical bills, Cassandra said. He offered this advice:
“Never pay the first medical bill you get. It’s the suckers bill. Think usury. Just throw it out. 40% chance you never hear from them again 40% chance you get 5 more then offered a big discount 20% chance you go to war.”
Cassandra made it sound like not paying your medical bills is an act of protest and a patriotic duty toward changing the broken U.S. healthcare system.
“Healthcare is messed up in America,” he said. “The more you succumb and pay whatever BS they send you, the more you solidify it to never change.”
There’s research to back up some of Cassandra’s claims.
A study by online loan company LendingTree found that 93 percent of Americans who negotiate their medical bills get them successfully reduced or eliminated.
Despite more than 90 percent of the U.S. population having some form of health insurance, Americans owe hundreds of billions of dollars in medical debt, according to a 2022 Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analysis of government data.
Close to one in four Americans — 23 percent — have medical debt, according to Lending Tree.
Cassandra tweeted a copy of a hospital bill from his fourth child, born in October 2021. “Last bill received was June 2022” he said. “Never heard from them again. Not on our credit. Likely written off”.
Cassandra anticipates that people will respond to his suggestions with “‘I did this + it went to collections’ or ‘I got a court summons'”.
His advice? “Chill Call them, offer 75% off and then play hard from there.”
However, don’t ignore the bill, says GoodRX, a telemedicine platform that tracks prescription drug prices and provides coupons for discounts. “If you do nothing, your medical bill could grow because of interest and fees. And, eventually, the debt could end up in collections and ding your credit score,” GoodRX reported.
Effective July 1, 2022, paid medical debt stopped appearing on consumer credit reports, Lending Tree reported. Similarly, unpaid medical debt was supposed to stop appearing on credit reports for a year, up from six months. In the first half of 2023, the three credit reporting agencies stopped including medical debt of less than $500 on credit reports.
A lot of people think they’re alone in carrying medical debt. “That is absolutely not the case,” said Jared Walker, the founder of Dollar For, a nonprofit that helps people eliminate medical bills by holding hospitals accountable to their charity care policies.
Walker said the biggest misconception about medical debt is that “people see that bill and the number on that and they think, ‘I have to pay this quickly and I have to pay this exact amount,’ and that’s just not the case. You have time. They’re fake numbers.”
Your healthcare provider isn’t perfect and billing departments make mistakes, according to GoodRX. For example, they could have charged you for a test or service you didn’t receive. “So look over the bill carefully to make sure every item or service you’re being charged for is something you received.”
Walker advises calling the billing office and asking for a settlement amount, or what they’ll accept if you pay the bill that day. “Typically, we can get 30 to 50% off,” he said in an NPR report.
“I always tell people the numbers are fake,” Walker said. “They don’t matter. It can always be lowered.”