Health Care: The Other Kind of Debt That Plagues Millennials

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By Devin Morrissey

According to a recent study, 74 percent of millennials have unpaid medical bills. Surprised? It’s true, and medical debt has become such a problem for our generation that it even rivals our culminating student loan and credit card debts.

As income levels fluctuate and insurance becomes more expensive, it is becoming easier for many millennials to fall into the debt trap. It is a tough situation, and in many cases, the system is working against us. But that doesn’t mean that we have to become a victim.

Medical debt can be a serious issue, especially for young women. However, by having the proper insurance where we can get it, staying healthy, and following some of these tips for tackling debt collectors, together we can get through life without incurring even more of these heavy debts. Addressing your debts head on is an act of self-care, don’t underestimate it.

How Medical Debt Occurs and How to Tackle It

So why is so much of our generation dealing with medical debt? There are a multitude of reasons including not having enough money when an incident occurs to being completely uninsured in the first place. We also tend to move around a bit more, which can lead to literally losing bills when the payments are due. That’s when the debt collectors start calling and it can be a real pain.

With many of us making less than $40,000 a year, it is no wonder why 20 percent of millennials are uninsured. So it goes without saying that the first step to avoiding unnecessary costs is to obtain health insurance. If you don’t qualify for health insurance where you work, the easiest way to acquire insurance is to visit a health care exchange where you can comparison shop to get a plan that matches your budget.

While you are shopping around, think about the medical conditions you have and consider possible prescriptions you might need and find a plan that factors them in. Also, think about your past medical experiences. If you have needed to go to the emergency room several times in the past or you have any chronic conditions, then find a plan with an emphasis on emergency care, or if you are pregnant or are thinking about starting a family, then find a plan that will be flexible in these situations. After all, starting a family is hard enough!

Managing Medical Debt

Just because you find yourself with steep medical bills, it does not mean that all is lost. There is hope! The first step you should take is to check all of your medical bills for accuracy. Check all dates of services, look for duplications or overcharges, charges for services that you did not receive, and make sure that new fees were not added after your treatment concluded because the last thing you want is to be on the hook for unnecessary charges.

Once you know that your bills are legitimate, ask the provider if you can break up the bill into a payment plan. If they cannot oblige, then transfer the balance to a new credit card with a zero percent APR and make payments that way. Just be mindful of the terms and conditions of the card, so you don’t get stuck in credit card debt as well.

If you find yourself already in collections and unable to keep up with or make payments, there are myriad options when it comes to negotiating your medical debt before it takes a bigger hit on your credit:

  • Negotiate lump sum payments
  • Agree on a percentage paid to settle the debt
  • Again, negotiate monthly payment plans

Chances are, the hospital, debt collectors, and everyone else involved will be more eager to simply get any of the remaining balance, rather than none—and you can use that to your advantage. Explain your situation, remain calm, and do your best to negotiate a means of paying down your balance—there’s a good chance someone on the other end will listen.

Stay Healthy

While there are medical conditions that you cannot predict, we can avoid unnecessary medical bills by working to stay healthy, so we don’t get sick in the first place. For us ladies, the top forms of illness include heart disease, breast cancer, osteoporosis, depression, and autoimmune diseases. Although sometimes unavoidable, we can do our best to fight against these threats by exercising, eating nourishing food, limiting how much alcohol we drink, and managing our stress levels.

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. In 2013 alone, it was responsible for the deaths of 289,758; approximately 1 of every 4 female deaths. And while heart disease is often considered to be a “man’s disease,” it kills roughly the same number of women and men each year. The most terrifying part of all is that nearly two-thirds of women who die suddenly of heart disease exhibited no previous symptoms.

Women are also more vulnerable to lung damage from inhaled smoke and pollutants than men. This is why it is important to avoid first and second-hand smoke, even in the form of vaping. Many of us are under the impression that vape pens are a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

It has been proven that smoking via vape liquids is as addictive as cigarettes and when these chemicals hit our young brains, they can cause long-term neurological damage. On top of that, some of the flavors in the e-liquids associated with vaping can cause hardening of the arteries and other heart conditions. Scariest of all, there are cases of vape pens literally exploding in user’s faces; in the case of one individual, the explosion resulted in burns over 80 percent of their body. It’s not cool and it’s not healthy. Needless to say, the damaged caused inside and out from these dangerous substances could result in costly medical bills that we could end up paying for years to come.

Although emergencies can occur and we may not always be able to avoid medical bills, proper preparation for these unexpected events is key. Understanding the system, limiting the chances of incurring debt, and knowing how to tackle overdue bills will go a long way.