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WATCH: KXAN crowdsourced across Texas, asking patients sued for medical debt by their doctor or hospital to share their stories. Those interviews – and others collected from defendants in lawsuits we identified – are featured in this video gallery. For legal and privacy purposes, we omitted names of doctors and medical entities. The response period has ended.

For its “Medical Debt Lawsuits” project, KXAN collaborated with ClearHealthCosts, a national journalism group focused on transparency in the healthcare marketplace. In our research and interviews, two of the main questions we heard were: what do I do if I have been sued by my hospital or doctor, and what should I do if I can’t pay my medical bill?

We compiled a list of tips and resources to help answer those questions for you below.

If you’ve been sued

If you can’t pay your bill

  • Understand state law. Texas has some protections against surprise medical billing. The Texas Department of Insurance provides details. 
  • Understand federal law. A new federal measure is designed to protect people against surprise medical bills. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group has compiled tips on surprise billing patient protections.
  • Get an itemization. Ask the hospital or other provider for a detailed bill to understand your charges. 
  • Don’t pay immediately. Debt experts explain there are often mistakes in bills. Do research first to see if the bill has been mis-processed, improperly denied, or if you qualify for financial aid.
  • Don’t ignore the bill. Put your challenge to the charges in writing, and keep a record of that challenge. If you let it slide or object only by phone, your credit may be damaged – and the hospital or doctor may take you to court.
  • Check with your insurer. This could include private or employer-based insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, the Veterans Administration or anyone who has responsibility for your care and makes sure your bill has been properly processed. If applicable, ask if you qualify for Medicaid, if you are not already on it.
  • Ask about financial aid from the hospital or doctor. Financial aid policies differ from place to place and may be more charitable than you think. They may also be hard to find, so ask specifically, look on the website or both. 
    • Dollar For is a nonprofit that helps in applying for financial assistance.
    • If your application for financial aid is denied, ask why – or seek advice for an appeal. 
    • Red flag: When you are looking for financial aid, some places will try to direct you to “financing,” which might be an application promising interest-free or low-interest credit. This can be tricky. The financing application is basically an application for consumer credit, and it might have similar terms and conditions to credit card debt – hefty interest and penalties, for example.  
WATCH: KXAN’s Will DuPree, Josh Hinkle and David Barer discuss the “Medical Debt Lawsuits” project and what you can do to avoid financial challenges surrounding such cases.

KXAN’s Josh Hinkle and David Barer collaborated on this article with reporting partner Jeanne Pinder of ClearHealthCosts, who is also featured in a special episode of the investigative podcast, Catalyst. Hinkle, along with KXAN’s Arezow Doost and Richie Bowes, conducted the interviews in the crowdsourcing video gallery at the top of this article.

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