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Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 book Nickel and Dimed was an eye opening look at the harsh realities of what life was like for the working poor. She put herself through a social experiment, working unskilled jobs to get a better idea of what life was like for the working poor. Ehrenreich discovered first-hand, what the long hours of physical labor felt like, with the limited financial return. She discovered how difficult it was to afford many things, let alone save money.

Thankfully, this isn’t the reality for most Americans. But it’s a similar situation many people could find themselves in due to enormous medical bills. Even with health insurance, medical care can be expensive. Especially if you’re on a high deductible insurance plan. What are you to do in the event that you’re in an accident, given treatment, and sent home with a bill of $3,000 but your deductible is $5,000?

The last thing you want to happen is for a medical bill to go into collections and hurt your credit. But if you can’t pay the bill, what other choice do you have? Fortunately, there are alternatives to just ignoring the bill and dealing with the consequences later. Here’s 4 things you can do if you’re hit with a medical bill too big to pay.


Everything in life can be negotiated. Your medical bills are no different. Do not be afraid to ask if the original bill you are given can be lowered. What’s the worst thing that can happen? They say no and you’re left paying the same amount?

When I had a CT scan a few years ago, I was hit with a $2,600 bill. Since I had a high deductible, my insurance wouldn’t cover the scan. Therefore I was on the hook for $2,600, which I did not have at the time. But I called the billing department of the hospital and asked about my options. In a Hail Mary attempt, I asked if they could lower the bill. To my surprise, the bill was lowered to $1,850. Still a lot, but significantly less that I was supposed to pay.

Ask for a Payment Plan

Medical center billing departments might seem like an evil place because they’re the ones that are sending you the big bills. But their goal is not to send your bill to collections. It’s to collect money so the medical center or hospital can operate.

Just like an outstanding gambling debt, most hospitals and medical centers will allow you to set up a payment plan. A $1,500 bill might be too much to stomach in a lump sum, but if that broken down into three payments of $500 or six payments of $250, it’s a much more reasonable figure. Talk to the billing department and see if you’re able to pay your bill in smaller increments.

Find Out if You’re Eligible for Assistance

There are non-traditional programs and charities that might be able to give you financial assistance with a medical bill. People called medical billing advocates can help you review your medical bills to make sure you’re not being overcharged. Some hospitals have themselves have a financial program for its patients. If you search, there are methods of financial help.


This is a relatively new option, but one that’s quickly gaining traction. Companies like GoFundMe offer individuals the opportunity to create a fundraising page, and solicit money from friends and family for medical bills. A mere $10 from 100 friends could greatly help. I’ve seen friends and friends of friends raise tens of thousands of dollars from GoFundMe for medical assistance.

A big medical bill can be extremely scary. It’s never fun getting a bill that’s so large you can’t imagine where you’ll get the money to pay for it. Don’t worry, you have options. These four options can help alleviate the financial strain a big bill gives you and will allow you to proceed with life.

Image Courtesy of GotCredit

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