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Follow these tips to avoid debt from medical bills

Medical debt can be as onerous as whatever made you sick. How to pay the bills is the dilemma.

According to a new survey from West Health and Gallup, Americans borrowed $88 billion in the past year to cover health care costs.

No doubt you have to pay what you owe, but before you resort to taking out a loan to pay for these expenses, explore these options.

Check your bill

Ask your medical provider for an itemized version of your bill and check each line. Make sure everything is accurate.

If you don’t understand something, ask questions. Dispute any errors.

“Speak with your insurance company to make sure they are covering everything they should. Find out if something in the bill should be recoded by the doctor or provider in order for it to be covered,” and then resubmit it to your insurance company, says Leslie Tayne, a debt resolution attorney with the Tayne Law Group in Melville.

Negotiate

As soon as you realize you can’t make payments, negotiate. If your bill is in collections, it’s worse for your credit score, but it may be easier to negotiate a settlement for a smaller payment.

“Consider getting a medical advocate to help negotiate,” says Joshua Zimmelman, president of Westwood Tax & Consulting in Rockville Centre.

Ask about charity programs

Many hospitals and medical providers have funds to help low-income patients and those who don't have insurance. See if you’re eligible for any assistance.

Raise money

“Use websites like GoFundMe and sharing the link with friends and family to get extra funds,” says Stephanie Bousley, author of the upcoming book "How to Get Out of Debt When You Love Spending Money."

Most important, says Tayne: “Never ignore your debt, even if you can’t pay it. Unpaid medical bills can damage your credit score.”

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