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What to do if you are overwhelmed by medical bills

Q. My husband experienced a mild stroke and has been unable to return to his regular job. In the meantime, he has found part-time work, but our income is significantly lower than it once was.  To make matters worse, all of his medical bills are pouring in. I’m overwhelmed and don’t know what to do next.  Can you help?

A. Life is full of many unexpected trials.  Like your husband, many people who experience health problems end up taking a different job or retiring early.  Thankfully, your husband is doing well enough to work part-time.

It can be overwhelming when you’re dealing with a budget shortfall, especially when you’re grappling with the fallout from a health issue at the same time.  It’s important, however, that you don’t let your feelings keep you from taking action. I encourage you to meet your financial problems head on with the steps outlined below.

Start by gathering all of your medical bills and make a list of them.  Include the name of the medical provider, the original balance, and the balance owing after insurance has paid. If insurance hasn’t paid on the account, check with your medical provider to ensure they have filed a claim with your insurance company. 

Next, make a list of all the other debts you have, the name of the creditor, the balance owing and the monthly payment.  Include car payments, as well as all other debts.

What is your monthly income now that you husband is working part-time?  Consider income from all other sources, too.  But count only what you know will be coming in every month.

Now review your monthly expenses.  How much is your rent or mortgage payment, your electricity, gas, and water/garbage each month?  How much do you pay for Internet, cable television, phone/cell phones, gasoline, car insurance prescriptions, groceries, etc.?

Add up your monthly expenses and your current debt payments and subtract them from your income.  If you have money left over, great – now you have money to pay your medical providers. 

If you don’t have money left over, you need to look at areas you can cut.  Can you cut cable, Internet or cell phone costs?  Do you have items you can sell? Could you get a part-time job?  The goal is to come up with money to pay all your debts, including your medical providers.  Depending on your income, you may be able to qualify for food stamps or other assistance.  Now is the time to consider all of your options.  

Once you know how much money you have available to pay your medical providers, call them and ask them if they will accept a monthly payment.  Most medical providers will accept a reasonable payment, as long as you make the payment every month.  If you miss payments, your account could get sent to collections, which you want to avoid if at all possible.

If you continue to feel overwhelmed or struggle with this process, contact your local non-profit accredited credit counseling agency.  They work with many families facing similar kinds of circumstances and may be able to help you consider additional options.

Bonnie Spain is the executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Black Hills, a United Way member agency. For more information, email

The material in this transmission is provided for personal, non-commercial, educational, and informational purposes only. ACCE makes no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this transmission and assumes no responsibility for errors, inaccuracies, omissions, or any inconsistency herein. You should consult a professional where appropriate.

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