Millions of families carry some form of medical debt, and it can be daunting and debilitating if you have trouble paying the bill. But before you sign up for one of those medical credit cards or loans offered by the health care provider -- promising to ease the burden -- Consumer Reports warns you could end up doing more harm than good.
“These options can have high interest rates, steep payment penalties, and do damage to your credit,” said Consumer Reports Investigative Reporter Lisa Gill.
CareCredit is the largest medical credit card company out there and is a subsidiary of Synchrony Financial. A spokesperson for Synchrony said:
“CareCredit’s convenient and transparent financing options make health and wellness care more affordable and can be used to pay for a wide range of health and wellness items.”
DIRECT LINKS TO HELP WITH MEDICAL DEBT: DollarFor.org: Discounts or bill forgiveness based on income | Credit bureaus offer leniency for medical debt | How to appeal a denied insurance claim
But according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the average medical credit card carries a whopping 27% interest rate -- much higher than the typical 16% for a general-purpose credit card.
That’s the main reason the CFPB has said, “Our research indicates that in many cases, patients who use these products end up worse off.”
Instead of signing up for a medical credit card or loan, Consumer Reports says you should ask your medical provider if it offers interest-free or low-interest payment plans.
If that doesn’t work, Consumer Reports says you should consider other options. If you have good credit, you may want to consider a personal loan from your bank or credit union, where interest rates can start around 10%.
This is important: Consumer reports says NEVER provide your credit card when receiving care in an emergency room. If you’re insured, ask for the invoice to be sent to your insurance company. If you’re uninsured, ask for it to be mailed to you so you can figure out how to pay it or negotiate in a calmer setting.
If you’re confronted with a hospital bill you can’t afford, always ask if there’s a charitable program you can apply for. You can find out how to apply with your specific hospital at DollarFor.org.
If your insurance company refuses to cover a procedure that isn’t elective or cosmetic, you should consider filing an appeal.
Open enrollment for affordable health care
If you are uninsured, the city of Jacksonville’s “Get Covered Jax” initiative wants to make sure you don’t miss out on your chance to get affordable health insurance. The city says 120,000 people in Duval County don’t have health coverage.
News4JAX is partnering with the city to get the word out that open enrollment is underway -- allowing you to choose from a variety of private health care plans through the Florida Health Insurance Marketplace at Healthcare.gov.
If you need help navigating, the city is here for you. Make an appointment to get free one-on-one assistance by calling 866-295-5955. The open enrollment period ends Jan. 15, 2024.