Many California residents struggle to pay their bills, especially if they are hit with an insurmountable sum of medical debt. In many cases, the people for whom medical bills loom large are those least able to handle the financial burden, including the poor and the elderly. Middle-class families may also struggle to make ends meet if their health insurance fails to cover significant medical bills. Patients may not think of medical debt as similar to credit card bills, but it can have a significant impact on a person’s credit record and debt collectors can purchase the obligation. As a result, vulnerable people may be facing ongoing collection calls demanding payment for these expenses.

Some regulations now limit the speed at which medical bills can affect a patient’s credit report. The major credit bureaus must wait 180 days before including medical items on a person’s credit report in order to provide a greater time period to reach a resolution with the original provider. This can be especially critical if an insurance company has denied coverage and the patient is engaged in appeals with the insurer. In addition, if the insurer finally pays, the debt must be removed from the patient’s credit report.

Patients may try to negotiate a lower payment amount with the original healthcare provider. Insurance companies often negotiate their payments, leaving individual payers facing larger bills than huge companies. Nonprofit hospitals and healthcare facilities often have a budget set aside for charitable bill reductions.

In some cases, medical bills may only add to a growing pile of debt. Some patients may even feel pressured to pay the medical bills on credit, leaving them with fewer protections. People who find themselves in such a situation might want to meet with an attorney to learn more about bankruptcy and other debt relief options.