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Study shows medical debt a growing problem

One area of financial and health hardship that many Milwaukee, Wisconsin, residents are looking for relief on is health insurance. While many may find relief under the Affordable Health Act, a study from The Kaiser Foundation and Clear Point Credit Counseling illustrates the point that insurance doesn't remove the possibility of medical debt problems. According to the study, a third of all Americans have experienced difficulty paying medical bills, and most who are struggling have health insurance.

Experts with the counseling organization say individuals faced with medical debt often make decisions that increase financial hardships. Unpaid medical bills don't impact credit scores unless they are turned over to a credit agency, so ignoring bills is not a good choice. In some cases, contacting the provider will let you access payment plans or hardship programs. Even paying a little each month can keep the bill from collections.

Some individuals use credit cards to pay off medical bills. This transfers the bill to a high-interest account rather than getting rid of it, which can create more problems. The study showed that some people choose to pay these bills rather than make mortgage payments, putting them in danger of foreclosure. If bills are very high and injured or ill individuals are unable to work, the process can eventually lead to bankruptcy, but often not before individuals drain savings and retirement accounts.

According to credit counselors, maintaining good health through diet, exercise and regular checkups is one way to avoid large medical debt. You can't always control such things, however, so it's important to have a plan and understand your options if a large medical bill begins looming.

Source: NBC 12, "On Your Side Alert: New Study on Medical Debt" Gray Hall, Apr. 07, 2014

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