Medical debt is a serious expense that can ruin your financial plans and take years to resolve. While this debt is difficult to deal with once you have it, there are important steps you can take before you’ve taken on the debt, or made a single payment.

Take these steps before or after appointments to reduce your medical debt, or get rid of it altogether.

Get Checkups Early instead of Going to Emergency Rooms or Urgent Care

The most serious medical debt always comes from the most advanced conditions. You may be able to deal with less debt if you choose to get help when you first notice your symptoms. If you have to rely on emergency rooms or urgent care centers, you’ll have to pay much larger amounts on top of whatever it takes to resolve your condition. 

This can be a short-term expense, but proper management will cost far less than emergency management, and leave you will a much smaller amount of debt.

Research the Procedure before Treatment

If your doctor has recommended an expensive procedure, make sure that you research it fully before you receive it. Make sure that it’s one that your insurance policy covers. If your insurance doesn’t cover it, call them to find out if there is a similar procedure that they do cover.

If practical, get a second opinion on whether the treatment is really the one you need, or if its necessary at all.

Save as far in Advance as Possible

Any amount that you can cover in cash won’t need to be added to your medical debt. You should save up for the procedure as far in advance as possible to avoid adding to the amount that will collect interest.   

One option is a Health savings account (HSA). These are tax-advantaged accounts that can be used to cover active or future expenses from procedures, prescriptions, and therapy. Until the balance is used for health care expenses, you can deduct contributions from your taxes.

Research your Health Insurance Plan, Perhaps with a Lawyer 

Some people take on excessive medical debt because they’re mistaken about whether their insurance covers their procedure. When your insurance rejects your claim, you may be on the hook for thousands or tens of thousands.

Make sure that you fully review your policy before you go in for a big procedure. In some cases, insurance companies may try to reject claims that their policy should cover. Reviewing your policy and getting a lawyer’s opinion about what it covers can offer you a path forward if your claim is rejected.

Apply for Charity Care

Federal and state laws require licensed hospitals to provide medically necessary treatments at low or no cost if the patient has no ability to pay. Qualification is not automatic. You must apply, and you may be rejected. Your hospital will be able to provide you with the forms that you need to qualify. 

Compare Pharmacies before You Fill A Prescription

Prescriptions can create a significant amount of medical debt. You may be able to save on that amount by comparing pharmacies before you fill your prescription. Some pharmacies may carry alternatives or generics that are cheaper, but just as effective at treating your symptoms.

Call Ahead to Verify Your Medical Bills before Making A Payment

Before you make a payment on your medical debt, call the hospital to go through the bills and make sure that they’re completely legitimate. Many hospitals have understaffed payment departments, and paperwork can easily become mixed up or lost. The wrong charges can easily end up on your bill, and one call can get them removed before you’re charged for them.

Set up a Payment Plan

If you can’t handle all of the debt at once, your first priority should be keeping it out of collections. You can do that by contacting the hospital and arranging a payment plan. In most cases, the hospital will be happy to let you do this. This can make the debt far more manageable, especially if you take the next step of negotiating a lower payment. 

Try to Negotiate a Lower Payment or Income-Driven Plan

If you are unable to get out of owing the debt, you may still be able to make it more manageable by having your payments limited only to what you can afford. Contact the hospital and tell them that you can’t afford your current payments. You may be required to provide some information to prove that you can only afford the smaller payments.

Ask for Help 

If you have no other options, remember that you can always ask for help. There are many charities that are devoted to helping people with medical debt, and even platforms like Kickstarter have legions of charitable people who support those with medical needs.