Americans will go bankrupt by falling ill • Good Non profit

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As Chamberlin Edmonds only offered to help him buy public insurance, which Lockett was not eligible for, the company was not able to reduce his hospital bill or develop a payment plan. Lockett assumed that it meant she was in stalemate with hospital bills of nearly $ 30,000. "They said they could not do anything," she said. She decided to put the bills aside and try to get them after finding a job.

A year later, Lockett attended a meeting with representatives of Georgia Watch, a non-profit group, as part of his volunteer work. When one of Georgia Watch's representatives mentioned that the organization had a guide for people who wanted to reduce their hospital bills, Lockett took a copy. She called back the hospital. This time, she said, they told her that her entire bill had been cleared.

Emory Healthcare said it could not comment on patients individually, but added that "patients will sometimes receive two bills for the same date of service: one for services rendered by the doctor, the other for a stay at the hospital. 39 hospital, supplies, services and materials provided. . Emory Healthcare Customer Service works with patients to establish a mutually acceptable agreement for the payment of hospital bills or outpatient bills. "

"In reality, medical costs are not objective but real costs," said Berneta L. Haynes, director of equity and access at Georgia Watch. One day, an MRI can cost $ 19,000. The next, it does not cost anything.

Although she is still responsible for reducing her ambulance bill, Lockett was lucky. Others are not. Dana Peterman, a physiotherapist in Forsyth, Georgia, owed more than $ 4,000 after insurance, when her son was rushed to hospital with an anaphylactic peanut allergy reaction in 2017 She tried to negotiate a reduction in her bill. the hospital, the ambulance company, and the emergency doctors would not give him a discount. She paid in full, not wanting the bills to affect her credit.


When negotiating with a hospital, consumer advocates with whom I spoke recommended asking questions about financial aid, including charitable care for uninsured people. If that fails, the patient can ask if he can pay anything that the hospital would have charged to a person who had taken out Medicare – usually a lower rate. Hospitals and even collection agencies often accept payment plans or a discount in exchange for a lump sum payment.

Nevertheless, the current system requires that people negotiate independently for their own account with huge corporations, for tens of thousands of dollars, often when they are recovering from a serious illness. For Lockett, the process can be confusing for those who have not done so yet. "Maybe I did not say the right thing before," Lockett said.

If the patient fails to pay, a medical debt can be sent to a collection agent. Some advocates say that small medical debts are now sold to debt buyers, companies trying to recover as much as possible. "We are now seeing that small medical practices involve themselves in selling bad debts to buyers for cash," said Sandoval-Moshenberg of the Legal Aid Justice Center. Rather than medical records or a patient story, these buyers only rely on a list of debts in a spreadsheet, which further complicates things, according to Sandoval-Moshenberg and others, because patients negotiate an agreement or erase an agreement. fault. But this practice makes financial sense for doctors, given the number of people unable to pay their bills.

When all else fails and the person risks getting his salary because he has been sued for medical debt, it may be time to declare bankruptcy, says Sandoval-Moshenberg. People who become the top of a very large iceberg of debt.

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Olga Khazan is an editor at L & # 39; Atlantic.