When you get sick or injured, you need immediate medical help. But what happens when you can't pay the hospital and doctor bills?
Medical debt the top reason for bankruptcy in America, but there are ways you can bargain to lower those bills.
Years ago, when his son Andrew turned 13, Harry Layden faced a predicament. Andrew had to see a pediatric kidney stone specialist. Layden thought he was covered by a new insurance policy.
"His surgery that he had to get happened a day before the health insurance would kick in, so he's not covered," said Harry Layden, Tulsa resident.
Layden ended up with a $7,000 hospital bill. He offered less.
"I'm offering you $4,000 in cash and, of course, she said no they couldn't do that, so I said 'I'm going to pay you $50 a month until it's paid off, and that's the best I can do,'" he said.
The hospital ended up taking the lump sum payoff, and Layden saved $3,000.
Fast forward six years, and Andrew got kidney stones again. Layden's insurance company had put a rider on the policy, saying any future kidney issues for Andrew wouldn't be covered.
"Emergency room bill came to seven grand. For three hours. Seven grand," said Harry Layden, Tulsa resident.
He offered $2,000 in cash and they took it, saving him $5,000.
Layden is fortunate he had money available to pay off the bills at a much lower cost, saving thousands of dollars. But, what if you don't have enough in savings to settle medical debts?"
Chris Hogan is a financial expert who works on nationally-known radio host and financial expert Dave Ramsey's team. He says the worst thing to do is ignore the bill.
If medical debt collectors are calling, Hogan says you have a pro-active conversation with providers.
"Let them know exactly where you are, what your situation is, and begin to communicate what you can do about it," said financial expert Chris Hogan. "Don't let them tell you what you have to pay, pay what you can."
Hogan says call to check in each month. As you get extra money in, pay a little extra. And if you negotiate a settlement? Make sure you get it in writing.
"A lot of times, they'll throw out things just talking with you to try to find out how much money can you get your hands on, at this point in time, so slow down, if they won't put it in writing, it's not real," he said.
In Harry Layden's case, bargaining with the hospital worked out well, ending up Seriously Saving him money.
The key is, you have to take the initiative and ask for a discount.
Keep in mind some hospital billing departments don't want to deal with lengthy collections, so they may agree to collect something and get charges off their books.