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Even with insurance, healthcare is shockingly expensive. Between unnecessary surgical add-ons, scans and overused intensive care-level treatment, medical patients often find themselves facing surprisingly large hospital bills. More than 25 percent of Americans cannot afford their medical bills.

Bankruptcy has a stigma as a last resort for frivolous spenders. In reality, bankruptcy is a practical option for people caught in unfair debt. Most people facing medical debt have health insurance. They spend all of their savings and get second jobs to cover the costs. According to USA Today, medical debt is the number one reason why people file for bankruptcy in the U.S.

How can people avoid medical debt?

The best way to avoid going into severe debt is to collect adequate savings. It is recommended to acquire three to six months’ worth of living expenses. While saving money can seem impossible at times, it can be done with a strict budget. Create a monthly budget and do not go over your spending allotments. Take the remaining amount of your income and add it to a savings account.

In some cases, especially for people already facing other types of debt, building a savings account will take a long time. While saving money will help, you can take extra measures to protect yourself when you are in need of medical attention.

Protect yourself against unfair billing practices

It is possible to reduce charges for a hospital visit. Arm yourself with the following strategies to protect against unfair medical bills:

  1. Ask the price of the test or treatment before accepting it.
  2. Ask for the billing codes from your medical provider. Call your insurance provider to ensure that those codes are covered under your plan.
  3. Ask your insurance provider if the surgeon, anesthesiologist and their assistant are covered under your plan.
  4. Ask the hospital if they have a financial assistance policy. These policies can help qualifying patients receive major discounts.
  5. Ask for an itemized bill and make sure that there are no billing errors.

These strategies can help protect you from burdensome medical debt. However, an unpredictable illness or accident can still leave patients facing major debt. Anyone facing unmanageable medical debt should speak with a bankruptcy attorney to discuss their options for debt relief.