Listening: getting sick, going to the doctor, incurring medical debt, repeating

Sillness can cause debt, which can then backfire and cause more illness. It’s the all-too-unfortunate cycle for people across the country who find themselves with crippling medical debt, the most common reason a debt collector might go after someone, with 1 in 5 households who goes into debt to pay for medical care.

Since hospitals, health care providers, insurers, insurance-sponsoring employers, and others are responsible for people who incur medical debt, they can all step in sooner to prevent this from happening.

This week on the “First Opinion Podcast,” Michelle Proser discusses ways to prevent medical debt and offers potential palliatives that could help people get out of debt and into needed and supportive healthcare environments.


“If we want to improve health outcomes and eliminate health inequities as a whole health system, we really need to think about these care experiences more holistically – of which medical billing is a part. important,” Proser said.

This conversation emerged from Proser’s First Opinion essay, “How Hospitals and Health Systems Can Help Patients Avoid Medical Debt.” She is a senior director of the Financial Health Network, which recently published a series of reports on preventing medical debt.


If you’re facing medical debt or are worried about it, Proser offers a few resources:

  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (a federal agency responsible for consumer protection in the financial industry)

    • Tips for navigating complex medical billing and collections
    • Know your rights and protections
    • File a complaint against a company for debt collection and billing practices

  • “Never Pay the First Bill” (Portfolio, 2021), a book by journalist Marshall Allen, explains healthcare billing and pricing and provides readers with unique tools to avoid being scammed or overpaying for services.

  • “How to Spot Costly Mistakes on Your Medical Bill and When to Request an Itemized Bill,” written by, does what the title promises.
  • “5 Ways to Stop Medical Debt from Killing Your Credit” by AARP is a beginner’s guide to medical debt.
  • “Getting out of medical debt can seem impossible. Here’s How To Do It” is a helpful episode of NPR’s “Life” kit podcast. His examples of “Bill of the Month” are telling.
  • If you have already accumulated this type of debt, the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling can help you find a good credit counselor.

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