9 ways to get out from under a heaping pile of medical debt

6 min read
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You’re working through a serious health crisis — a heart attack, car wreck, cancer — and as you fight to recover, you also may be battling a growing stack of medical bills.

Unpaid medical debt is a problem for nearly 1 out of every 5 U.S. consumers, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“The stress is overwhelming to a lot of people,” says Bruce McClary, a spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. “A lot of times, people just shut down because of the anxiety and the fear when they start getting those letters in the mail.”

Most people don’t have a savings cushion to cover the debt. A study published in 2009 by the American Journal of Medicine found that more than 60 percent of all bankruptcies were linked to medical bills. Most who filed for bankruptcy had health insurance.

“A lot of consumers feel that just because they have insurance that whatever bills they’re left with in the end are going to be manageable,” McClary says. “A lot of times, it’s not manageable.”

Here are nine ways to deal with those bills. Note: They’re not all good ways.

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