Should I use patient financing for my medical treatments? | finder.com
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Should I use patient financing to pay for my medical treatments?

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What you should know before getting a loan at the doctor’s office.

It’s no secret that health care is expensive in the US, especially when compared to other countries. In 2016, the country spent $3.3 trillion on health care alone — that comes to about $10,348 a person. And some $352.5 billion of this was out-of-pocket costs. Out of our pockets, that is.

Patient financing might be a way to cover your treatment costs and break up your payments into more manageable chunks — if done right.

What is patient financing?

Patient financing is a type of loan provided by medical offices to help people pay for their procedures over an extended period of time. Medical providers tend to offer patient financing through a third-party lender. But some big providers may have their own in-house financing programs.

What types of treatment can it cover?

Unlike insurance, healthcare financing is available for nearly all medical treatments. You can use it to cover everything from bariatric surgery to buying a hearing aid when your insurance coverage falls short. Even to pay for what insurance companies consider elective procedures, like cosmetic or LASIK eye surgery.

You can finance other costs your policy leaves behind, like that $2,000 ambulance ride or prescription gaps.

Pros and cons of patient financing

Pros

  • Covers procedures insurance won’t. Sometimes that elective procedure is more of a necessity than your insurance company believes — like gender confirmation surgery. In these cases, healthcare financing could be your only option.
  • Makes high copays manageable. Prescriptions are costly, and even copays can be unaffordable if you need more than one.
  • Help with high deductibles. If you have a $7,500 deductible, your insurance isn’t going to do you much good if you need a trip to the emergency room. Healthcare financing can help you foot those costs.

Cons

  • Doesn’t eliminate medical costs. Medical treatment is expensive, and a loan won’t reduce that cost in the long run. It’s likely more expensive than paying up front, accounting for interest and fees.
  • Can be expensive. Hospital financing in particular can cost more than other options, which is why comparing lenders is key.
  • Not optimal for chronic conditions. Healthcare financing only puts off paying the full cost of treatment until later. If you’re on a cocktail of prescriptions for the foreseeable future or have frequent costly treatments, financing might not effectively lower your costs.

Patient financing vs. personal loan

Your specific patient financing options will likely come down to what your doctor’s office offers. Here’s how in-house patient financing and general-use personal loans differ.

Patient financing

When you need funds to pay for a specific procedure or hospital stay, healthcare providers often offer financing with partner lenders. It’s a tempting option, because there isn’t much you have to do — the money goes directly to the hospital or doctor’s office.

But your choices are limited to that medical provider. And it can also be more expensive than a general-use personal loan, especially if you don’t have good or excellent credit.

Loan with private lender

Generally, you can use a personal loan for any legitimate expense, including medical treatment. You can typically borrow from $2,000 to $50,000 and pay it back over a fixed time, usually between one and five years.

After you’re approved and receive your funds, you have the freedom to spend it on paying off hospital bills, picking up prescriptions or covering unexpected ambulance rides. Or use a personal loan to consolidate your medical costs into one bill, so that it’s easier on the wallet and mind to pay everything back.

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Should I look into financing before my procedure?

It’s not a bad idea to look into your options ahead of time so that you can apply for financing as soon as possible.

You might not be able to apply for a loan until after your treatment, however. Often it’s only after you’ve checked out of a hospital that you know your out-of-pocket costs for the visit.

Negotiating with insurance companies can take months. Even if you’re going in for a procedure that isn’t covered by your policy, you might not be aware of the costs until you’re in recovery, because complications can add to your medical bill.

For more predictable costs that you’ll pay up front, take the time to compare and apply for loans beforehand to make sure you’ve found the most suitable option you’re eligible for.

What if emergency medical expenses come up?

The good news is that many hospitals and doctor’s offices offer financing for this specific type of cost. The bad news is that you might not qualify if you don’t have strong credit.

In this case, online lenders can be an option. Applying often takes a few minutes, and some lenders can even forward your funds in as little as one day.

Need money now? Consider asking a friend or family to front the cost until your financing comes through.

How to compare different patient financing programs

Ask yourself the following questions when searching for the right type of healthcare financing for your circumstances.

  1. Am I eligible? To avoid time comparing loans you’ll never qualify for, look at the loan’s eligibility requirements first. Lenders often require a minimum credit score and income requirement.
  2. Can it cover my treatment? If you’re applying through your doctor’s office, the answer is yes. Otherwise, you might want to run your treatment by the lenders you’re interested in to be sure they lend for those costs.
  3. What’s the APR? A loan’s APR is an expression of your loans interest and fees as a percentage. It’s the quickest way to compare loan costs — just make sure you’re comparing the same repayment term.
  4. How long do I have to pay it back? Your loan term can determine two important costs: your monthly repayments and the total cost of your loan. Going for a longer term can lower your monthly costs but increase your total loan cost.
  5. Am I penalized for prepayment? Paying off your loan early can help you save on unnecessary interest and get out of debt more quickly. But a prepayment fee could eat into your overall savings.
  6. What do customers say? Reading about others’ experiences might not provide an entirely accurate portrayal of what you can expect. But similar complaints across sites that verify user reviews, like Trustpilot, can raise red flags.

What if my doctor doesn’t offer patient financing?

Sometimes in-house financing isn’t the best choice — or even a choice at all, if you can’t qualify or your provider doesn’t offer it. But you can cut down or cover your immediate medical expenses without having to take out a loan.

Ask about payment plans

Hospitals and physicians don’t always advertise it, but many offer payment plans. This option works like a loan, but without any interest.

Call ahead or contact the billing department to find out if this is an option for your situation. Because payment plans aren’t available for every treatment, be specific about what type of procedure you’re getting.

Look into charity or nonprofit financial assistance

If you can plan ahead, look into financial assistance available through charities or nonprofits. You might find one offering grants and other help for the specific costs you’re struggling with.

Many foundations are dedicated to working with specific demographics, like veterans or children with special needs. The assistance might not cover all of your out-of-pocket costs, but it can help make a significant dent.

Use credit cards

For an emergency expense that you need to pay right away, putting it on your credit card could be your only option. Credit cards tend to have higher interest rates than a personal loan, however, so try to pay it off as quickly as possible.

If you’re struggling to make payments, consider our tips for reducing your credit card debt.

Negotiate costs with the healthcare provider

If you’re unable to pay your medical bills, your hospital or doctor might be open to negotiating what you owe. Or see if your personal healthcare provider is willing to negotiate on your behalf — they are sometimes more persuasive than you would have been on your own.

If you’re successful, you could end up with a lower bill or an interest-free payment plan.

Hire a medical bill advocate

Medical bill advocates are available to help you decipher complicated hospital charges and doctor’s bills to make sure you aren’t overcharged.

Many advocates charge a flat fee, while others charge a percentage of the amount they save you. They can be particularly helpful after a medical stay, where duplicate charges, listing wrong procedures and other mistakes aren’t unheard of.

Bottom line

Patient financing won’t eliminate or lower your healthcare costs. But it might make large medical bills less of a strain on your wallet.

If you think you might need financing in the future, compare lenders now to make sure you’re prepared when it’s time to pay. Start with our guide to medical loans to learn more about how they work.

Frequently asked questions

Anna Serio

Anna Serio is a staff writer untangling everything you need to know about personal loans, including student, car and business loans. She spent five years living in Beirut, where she was a news editor for The Daily Star and hung out with a lot of cats. She loves to eat, travel and save money.

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