I was reading a post on a listserv recently where the question was asked, “What would happen if a patient were unable to pay their hospital bill?” Someone responded that they should not worry as hospital debts were different then other types of debts and would not affect their credit rating!

This cannot be father from the truth. Hospital debts are no different from any other type of debts. Most hospitals have a strong relationship with a collection agency and do not hesitate to utilize their services.

A much better solution to the problem is to contact the finance office at the hospital. Usually you will be able to arrange a favorable payment plan. Then, as long as you keep to the plan, you will not have any trouble from the hospital or its collection agency.

Hospitals will always turn an open account with no agreed payment schedule to a collection agency. Most states have a fund that will pay bad noncollectable debts, but the hospital is required to show that they attempted to collect and the patient was unable to pay before the fund will pay them. A report from a collection agency will meet this requirement, so yes; it will be sent for collection.

Medical debts are not treated any differently from other type of debts and so they will affect your credit report if they go to collection.

In addition, you should contact the American Cancer Society and Cancer Care because they do have financial assistance programs for cancer patients in financial need.

Joel T. Nowak MA, MSW