A recent study of more than 4 million anonymous credit reports found that 16 percent of them had listings for medical bills that were in collections. More than 2 percent of adults had medical debts of less than $200 that were submitted to collections companies. Furthermore, over half of the medical collections for the year studied, 2016, were for amounts less than $600. The study shows how medical collections are hurting people’s credit in California and across the United States.

Medical bills are often sent to collections agencies after the patient fails to pay the bill for a certain period of time. The patient’s credit rating suffers and he or she must deal with phone calls from creditors. According to the recent study, individuals in their late 20s are the most likely to have medical bills in collections — three times as likely as people in their late 60s. People in their 60s are more likely to need medical care, but they are also eligible for Medicare, which covers many medical expenses.

One reason people may acquire medical debt in their late 20s is that they may not have health insurance. They probably also have not yet reached their peak earning potential and they may not have any money saved. Even those who have insurance may struggle with medical debt because of plans that have high deductibles. Many people also miss work due to the injury or illness that led to the medical bills, compounding the financial consequences.

Someone who has bills in collections may want to speak with an attorney. Legal counsel could examine the facts of the situation and suggest debt reduction or restructuring options. In some cases, Chapter 13 bankruptcy could provide the opportunity to restructure debts and pay them down over the course of three to five years. An attorney might be able to negotiate better payment terms with creditors or draft and file a petition for bankruptcy relief.