Major Life Challenges Blog Series

We are taking a closer look at some of the big issues we all can face in our lifetime. Each topic will be featured as a blog series.

My Medical Debt Story

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Life is full of surprises some good, some bad, and some that will change your life forever.

My Medical Debt StoryIn my 33 years of life I have encountered many of life’s surprises:

  • Marriage proposals
  • The birth of my son
  • Divorce
  • Two serious medical problems that left me hospitalized

The common theme with all of these surprises was they left me with debt, and lots of it!

It was an early spring day a year following my divorce; my son and I were just getting settled with our new life and routine when something just didn’t feel right. I dropped my son off at daycare and went to work. I was only there an hour when I doubled over in pain and at the urging of my co-workers went to the emergency room.

For those of you have experienced a visit to the ER you know how painful the process and the subsequent bills can be. After waiting for three hours and undergoing a battery of tests it turns out I had an ovarian cyst the size of a tennis ball that was the cause of my pain. The ER doctor was concerned, but confident the cyst would shrink on its own.

Fast forward two weeks later…

Once again I was at work, same pain but more severe this time. I head back to the ER, this time for emergency surgery. The cyst did not shrink but tripled in size and needed to be removed. I was panic stricken as they were throwing around the word “cancer”.

I was a 28 years old single mom to a three old. He needed me and I felt as if my life was hanging in the balance.

Thoughts running through my head…

  • Would my insurance cover my hospital bills?
  • Who would take care of my little boy if heaven forbid something happened?
  • What if I have to be off work for an extended period of time?
  • How would I pay my bills?

The answers to all my questions came later…

I successfully made it through surgery and it was not cancer. I did however need to be out of work for 6 weeks. I ended up taking FMLA leave and received only a portion of my paycheck for those 6 weeks; not enough to cover our monthly expenses.

My insurance did not cover all of my hospital bills; in fact I had to pay over $12,000 in out of pocket expenses. Ouch! It turns out my companies insurance was not the greatest and only covered 80% of lab work and x-rays and didn’t cover anesthesia. Who has surgery without anesthesia? In the eyes of the insurance company this was “optional”.

I needed a plan. How was I going to keep up with my regular expenses while I was only receiving part of my paycheck and how would I attack the $12,000 in medical expenses I racked up?

Keeping Up…

Initially I was in a state of delusion and extremely frightened my whole world was going to come crashing down, but after I took a deep breath and evaluated my situation I felt a little bit better. Here was my attack plan:

  • Re-evaluate budget.  The first step I took was a total budget overhaul. We were already living fairly lean but, I was convinced there was more I could cut out.
  • Dig in to emergency savings.  While there was not much there, it was enough to get us through those six weeks of partial pay and get the important bills paid on time.
  • Prioritize.  I knew there were two bills I would not miss or pay late; my mortgage and car payment. These debts are secured and I did not want to risk foreclosure or repossession. I only had two credit cards at the time with relatively low balances. I typically would pay more than the minimum, but for those 6 weeks I paid the minimum to keep the account current. 

Paying Debts…

The bills didn’t all come in at once, but rather as surprises in my mailbox every couple of weeks. If you have ever experienced a hospitalization you know that everything is billed “separately”; a bill for your hospital stay, the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, the lab, the imaging center, you get the picture.

After countless hours on the phone with my insurance company I resigned myself to the fact I was going to have to pay these bills, like or not. Obviously I did not have this kind of cash on hand and was in no position to settle with them for what they were offering.

  • Contact the provider.  They want their money and they don’t care how they get it. If you call and ask for a payment plan they will most likely give it to you. I agreed to pay each one at least $20 a month. It was all I could afford and they were ok with it. Failure to work out an agreement may result in them sending the bill to a collection agency, not fun.
  • Strike a deal.  If you have the cash and can afford it you can sometimes “settle” the bill for less. The caveat is they want the money right then and there. Make sure you get the agreement in writing before sending anything! You don’t want to be “surprised” a few months later with a bill for the remaining balance.
  • Seek help.  If you can’t afford the payments they are requiring, don’t have the cash to settle with them and don’t want the hassle of dealing with multiple creditors consider a Debt Management Plan. You can have someone else deal with headaches, get lower payments and feel confident you have a plan in place.

I was lucky. My situation was not life threatening, I made it through with flying colors. The payback was painful, but I survived that too. Evaluating your situation, devising a plan and seeking help when you need are essential to dealing with life’s little “surprises”.

Join me as we explore dealing with cost of medical emergencies in our latest series “Expect the Unexpected”.

 Suzanne CramerSuzanne Cramer

Suzanne is a certified credit counselor and a Social Media Specialist for CareOne Debt Relief Services. Suzanne writes for Divorce, Debt and Finances and Major Life Challenges. Follow Suzanne on Twitter @ADivorcedMom where she shares her insights as a single-divorced mom with tips and tricks to keep your finances in check. 




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  • Great advice for specifically handling medical bills....I had a run in with my insurance company recently too - although on a much smaller scale.  More generally, your story, and how you consistently fight and successfully overcome obstacles is inspiring to me.  There is an answer, there is a way - somewhere - to make it through whatever is standing in my way.  Thanks for the inspiration!

  • @tpizel Thanks Travis! Going through a medical issue whether it is you or a member of your family can be physically, emotionally, and financially draining. I am hoping our new series on medical debt will provide resources, insights, and advice for those that have experienced or are going through this right now.

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