Caution Advised Before Paying Medical Bills By Credit Card

Thanks to universal default, in which one credit card issuer can elect to raise your interest rate if you fall behind on the payments on another credit card, consumer advocates urge extra carefulness when paying large medical bills by credit card. Instead, first try working out an extended payment plan with the care provider.

Wariness Urged in Using Credit Cards for Medical Bills [NYT] (Photo: What Rhymes With Nicole)


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  1. acambras says:

    If you’re struggling financially, it’s worth it to see if the hospital has some sort of charity financial aid program. Years ago, I ran up an unexpected hospital bill. Even though insurance covered 80%, the remaining 20% was a sizable amount and would have presented a significant financial hardship. The hospital (a Catholic hospital run by the Franciscans, I think) got me to fill out some financial aid forms. I was hoping they’d just come up with a reasonable payment plan for me, but they just wrote off that last 20%. Thousands of dollars of debt, and they wiped the slate clean for me (and I’m not even Catholic). I’m still very grateful.

  2. Jean Naimard says:


    No such thing happens in Canada with the universal single-payer government-run insurance system with only a 3% administrative overhead instead of the 30% plus overhead of “frea mahkit” US one…

    One seriously has to wonder if americans are truly a bunch of suckers to let themselves be raped so much like that by private companies.

  3. foghat81 says:

    If you can’t get as lucky as Acambras, at the minimum just ask the hospital for a plan [as the article mentions]. Unless you have a bad history with the hospital, they’ll often agree to $50/month without even batting an eye — interest free of course and no other fees to worry about. I’ve done this for balances as little as $200. No sense in making a big payment when a 5 minute phone call can spread things out. They don’t pull your credit or anything. It’s foolish to not ask at the minimum.

  4. ju-ju-eyeball says:

    Universal default is a MAJOR scam by credit companies – it is none of there business how treat any of my creditors, only how I treat them. Can I say MONEY GRAB?

  5. JohnMc says:

    Everything in the post and the NYT article are true to form vis a vis credit cards and universal default. My question is what does the medical aspect of it have anything to do with this? It is only one of many triggers that could cause this. Shame on NYT for what I might consider scare tactics.

  6. travisw says:

    @JeanNaimard: Ahh universal healthcare. Sounds good on paper. I think you forgot to mention the long waits many have to endure to get healthcare. I’d rather be in debt than wait around suffering.

  7. cashmerewhore says:


    And don’t forget the research and advances in treatments comes from the US, not Canada.

    I work for a hosptial. If universal healthcare is so great, why do we have special accounts set up for rich, international patients to undergo treatment stateside?

    (Universal HC is great for things like colds and having babies. I wouldn’t want it if I had cancer….)

  8. Theber says:

    If it’s an emergency you don’t have to wait to be seen by a doctor. While I don’t have UHC where I live (The Bahamas), it is subsidized and it’s a relief to go to a public hospital get x-rays and two CT scans for less than $300 when something goes wrong- as my dad had to this week.

    I went to the hospital in the US I had a $1,000+ hospital bill for an x-ray and IV pain meds.

    The systems in the States isn’t all that great when someone can die for want of a tooth extraction. []

  9. forever_knight says:

    what’s with the unfounded belief that universal health care is the devil?

    points made:

    *rich internationals come to u.s. because we do lead the way with many treatments. making healthcare universal will not change this.

    *long waits are rare under universal healthcare. but why not look to the waits here in the u.s.? certain specialist i see has a wait time of 1 month. another specialist, 3 months. at my old job, the clinic had a wait time of 6 months before being seen. that is HERE in the U.S.

    how about thinking before posting nonsense.

  10. travisw says:

    I just did a random search at Chose breast cancer and South Eest LHIN. Guess what? 34 Days. Do you think it would take that long in the USA? Doubt it.

  11. travisw says:

    Oh, need a knee replaced? You’ll be lucky if it happens inside of six months.

  12. TechnoDestructo says:


    There are other places that have universal health care, or government-subsidized insurance so cheap it may as well be universal health care that aren’t Canada, and where it works better. (Japan, for instance, which also has tax rates similar to the US.)

  13. Indecision says:

    @travisw: “I just did a random search at Chose breast cancer and South Eest LHIN. Guess what? 34 Days. Do you think it would take that long in the USA?”

    For what it’s worth:

    * 8/2 – Walked into doctor’s office, seen within 20 minutes. Scripts written for blood tests and ultrasound. Referred to specialist (urologist).
    * 8/2 – Blood drawn and tests done
    * 8/3 – Ultrasound performed
    * 8/6 – Seen by urologist. Diagnosed with testicular cancer. Script written for CT scan. Scheduled for surgery.
    * 8/8 – CT scan performed
    * 8/9 – Surgery performed at 8:00am.
    (time passes for incision to heal)
    * 8/20 – Meet with radiation oncologist to discuss follow-up treatment, which will take place over the next 6 weeks.

    That’s surgery done within one week, and the follow-ups scheduled within 18 days. I was essentially “done” in half the time takes your hypothetical patient just to get to surgery? Yikes.

    To put this in perspective, my urologist insisted that I go in for surgery on the 9th, instead of waiting one week for the 16th (the 9th interfered with plans I’d made well over a year ago). When I asked why it would be a bad idea to wait just one week, he replied, “Because it’s cancer. Honestly, I would bring you in for surgery tomorrow if I could, but I can’t get into an O.R. before Thursday. An extra couple of days should be OK, but I wouldn’t until next week.”

    I’ll gladly pay money to get that answer instead of, “Cancer? Good luck with that! See you in a month, and hope it doesn’t spread!”

  14. forever_knight says:

    @travisw: i don’t know. why don’t you call an oncologist that deals with breast cancer and ask their wait times? i can tell you from personal experience that here in the U.S.: endocrinologists have wait times of 2-6 months, dermatologists have wait times of 1-2 months, pediatric audiologists have wait times of up to 6 months.

  15. JohnMc says:

    JEANNAIMARD , quite bluntly people have died under teh Canadian system waiting for treatment. If you are young and hearty, its great. But when you get older and afflictions hit, its a disaster.

  16. cashmerewhore says:

    Friend went to the ER for a painful lump in her breast, she had a consult with an oncologist the very next week, as well as an ultrasound (turned out to not be cancer).

    Wait times depend on your specialist, how they are scheduled and your insurance. I have never waited more than a week for a specialist’s appointment.

    (I’m in the US)

  17. acambras says:


    I hope you’re all right. Glad they took care of you quickly.

  18. bohemian says:

    The original subject about putting medical bills on credit is generally a very bad idea. What is more disturbing is that many of the card companies have been coming out with these medical credit cards. They are exactly like a regular consumer credit card complete with crazy fees and universal default.

    There are some medical clinics and hospitals trying to force these on patients who don’t have insurance or have huge co pays. Instead of offering some sort of discount or payment plan they are shoving these card apps at patients. What is even worse it that the clinic probably gets a finders fee for someone signing up for the card sort of like an affiliate percentage.

    Ironically the places I have seen these pushed were extremely money oriented rather than care oriented. IE: padded fees, attempts to defraud your insurance for more money.

    On the public health care debate. None of the proposed plans for the US involve socialized medicine. They involve a universal insurer. There is a big difference. There would not be government clinics or government owned doctors.

    Most specialists around here are running 2-6 months unless it is an emergency.

  19. Indecision says:


    Thank you. I’m glad they took care of me quickly, too. But then, I live in an area with so many medical offices, I’d be surprised if they hadn’t. One of the perks of living 2 miles from a major hospital, I suppose.

    I should be fine; the cure rate for testicular cancer is very high (95%+), and it’s extremely doubtful that it spread. They’re not even putting me through chemotherapy, because the potential benefit (not much) isn’t worth the risk and suffering.

  20. Onouris says:

    “one credit card issuer can elect to raise your interest rate if you fall behind on the payments on another credit card”

    Wait, what?? Thank god I don’t get sucked into credit cards :S

    And no-one has died in America because they had no insurance, or their insurance decided not to pay?

  21. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @JohnMc: The medical aspect is worth mentioning because many people aren’t aware that they can strike a good payment deal with a hospital. Other creditors aren’t usually so accommodating, so putting their bills on a credit card may be the only reasonable option.

    If they’d said “Your medical bills will kill your credit rating AND THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DOOOOO,” that’d be scare tactics. Instead, they offered some helpful advice.

  22. Squeezer99 says:


    troll troll troll your boat…