Don't Charge Your Medical Bills

August 2, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
When you're making a big purchase, like a car or even a flat screen TV, you probably expect a pitch to take out a loan or sign up for a credit card. But what about paying for your medical bills?James Wilkerson says he started getting calls several times a week after being hospitalized last year. He'd been rushed to the emergency room near death from complications from treatment for lymphoma. The bill for his four-day stay: $28,000.

"I finally got one call saying they were garnishing my wife's wages and taking away my home," he recalls.

Wilkerson said the hospital pressured him to settle the bill with a 13-thousand dollar line of credit on one of his credit cards. "Through a search of my credit, they found a closed, non-used, zero balance account that I didn't even know I had and forced me to use it on a cash-advance basis."

Andrea Rock, Consumer Reports, says "When patients use a credit card to pay for medical expenses, they lose their ability to negotiate lower payments or a longer payment schedule. And that puts people at a serious disadvantage."

Rock says hospitals aren't the only ones pushing patients to "charge it". "Capital One, JP Morgan Chase, and GE Money have all come out with "medical" credit cards or loans. They promote them to doctors, who in turn offer them to patients."

One card offers "attractive rates on cosmetic procedures." another touts this testimonial: "it helps us attract more patients and has increased our sales by 25%!"

"Interest rates on these cards can jump up very high. The fact is credit card companies make money, doctors and dentists get paid right away, but consumers can end up on the losing end."

James Wilkerson is one now struggling with mounting debt. Unable to continue making the minimum 260-dollar monthly payments, the interest rate on his credit card has jumped to 29-point-99 percent.

The hospital where Wilkerson was treated says it respectfully disagrees with his allegations. It says it reached a deeply discounted and mutually acceptable payment plan for his care. The hospital also noted it does help patients get charity care.


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