GREENVILLE, SC (FOX Carolina) - Medical debt: Many people have likely had some of it in their lives, and many others may still be deep in it.
We met some people who got a quick education on it once it started affecting their credit, and some experts who have tips for people to stay out of it.
We learned the process starts before even going to the doctor.
In our research, we found a lot of people who found the medical bills mounting up for problems totally beyond their control. It's led to a mess for their credit and for their lives.
It's the expense that few prepare for but nearly everyone has to deal with.
“I had about $8-to-10,000 in medical debt on my credit, from when I was younger, no insurance, hospital visits, dumb things,” said Danielle Batson.
Batson said she didn’t think her medical debt was something that would affect her future until she needed a house, a car, and more. All of which she said came back to having unpaid medical bills.
all of it would essentially come back to those unpaid medical bills.
“I was the one who set it aside, and 'oh, I'll wait on it, I’ll wait on it', and when it hit my credit, ‘Oh, it's too late now' and I thought there was no hope, so I didn't take care of it when I needed to.”
Batson’s story is very familiar to financial counselor Kathryn Beach.
“It's not exclusively medical debt, but almost everybody does have at least one minimum medical collection on their report when we look at it,” said Beach, who works with Ontrack WNC, a non-profit providing financial education and counseling, and sometimes deal with the most dire of cases.
A study by the Urban Institute found that one in five Americans has medical debt totaling at least $700. People in the Carolinas and Georgia have an even higher ratio of people with an even higher average medical debt, the study found. The medical debt is some of the worst in the country.
What leads to this? Experts we spoke to said a lot of the cost comes from not being prepared.
“There are a lot of unknowns: you don't know when that kidney stone is going to cause pain, if your appendix is going to become inflammed and be removed, a bad gall bladder, so it is like a game of chance sometimes,” said Dr. Christian Montagano.
Montagano is with Emergency MD in Greenville said he sees it all the time.
“It can financially bury a family that isn't making that much,” Montagano said.
The experts we spoke to advise people to study their insurance plan, know exactly what their policy entails and what it will cover.
“Insurance can have its own language, its own terminology. if you don't speak it and don't deal with it every day,” warned Alex Forrest with the AC Forrest Insurance Group.
AC FORREST INSURANCE GROUP
Forrest said taking full use of an insurance policy can help keep more money in people’s pockets.
“Use your preventive care, use those things in the policy that are at no cost,” Forrest advised. “If you have benefits, like telemedicine, use them because it keeps your cost down.”
Others advise people to take a more personal route. They recommend getting to know everyone in the process, from the medical staff giving treatment to those handling the billing.
“Establish a personal relationship with them so they feel invested in you, and this is an inside person not only invested in your health care, but also the cost of the health care,” said Dale Lyles, a medical advocate.
For Danielle Batson, she said she had to learn all this after the fact.
“I made sure I knew exactly what I was looking at, always making the payments, because you can definitely make up payments with the hospital systems,” Batson said.
Tuesday on The Morning News, we reveal ways you can negotiate with hospitals and care providers to possible reduce your medical debt.
That story will be in the 8 a.m. hour.