How do I get treatment for my injuries if I don’t have health insurance or the cash to pay up front?
With the Affordable Care Act still in its infancy, many Americans still don’t have health insurance. The cost of health care is staggering, often well beyond the means of the average person to pay. Car accidents are particularly expensive. In 2012, the average car crash resulted in about $3,000 in property damage and almost $15,000 in medical bills. For most people, that’s too big a bill to handle – especially if you have to pay upfront.
Who must pay my medical expenses?
When you’re in a car accident in North Carolina, the driver at fault is responsible for paying for your medical bills and other accident-related costs. Generally, the at-fault driver’s insurance will cover the expense. When you finish your medical treatments and car repairs, you’ll send the records to the insurance company. They’ll review the documents and make you an offer; you’ll then negotiate until you reach a settlement. This may take months, especially if your injuries are severe and treatment takes a long time.
While the at-fault driver (or insurance company) is responsible for paying the bills, that doesn’t mean she has to pay right away. The defendant doesn’t have to pay as you incur the costs, only at the end of the process when the costs are known. Insurance companies prefer to pay one lump sum at the end of the process when you’ve had all the treatment you’re going to need and they know whether you’ll recover and how much work you have to miss due to your injuries. That leaves you to deal with months or even years of medical expenses while the settlement process drags on. So, how do you pay for the treatments when you need them?
Some medical providers will allow you to delay payment until the end of the case. They will generally require that you retain a reputable attorney so they know that you’ll recover enough to pay them. They typically won’t allow you to delay payment if you’ll be representing yourself because of the high risk that you won’t be able to get sufficient compensation without the help of an attorney. Speak to your attorney and your medical providers before starting treatment, if possible, to discuss this option.
On the other hand, some medical care providers will refuse to treat your injuries if you don’t have insurance coverage. Your personal injury attorney can help you find providers that will work with your financial limitations.
Your Own Car Insurance
You can add certain provisions to your own car insurance coverage that will help to pay your medical bills in the event of an injury. Insurance settlements operate at a snail’s pace, but your own medical payment coverage (MedPay) kicks in immediately to make sure you get the care you need. Premiums are very low, especially when compared to the cost of health care. You may pay as little as $20 per month for $10,000 of MedPay coverage – average healthcare plans in North Carolina currently cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000 monthly.
If that’s not enough to convince you, your insurance company will help deal with the at-fault driver’s insurance company so you don’t have to. Because your insurance company picked up the tab on your medical bills, it’s in their interest to manage the settlement and make sure they get the largest possible payout. You and your attorney will still have to deal with lost wages, pain and suffering, and other claims, but the medical bills are often the largest portion of the expenses associated with an accident, so your fight is that much easier.
Aside from MedPay, you may be able to claim compensation for your medical bills under the Uninsured and Underinsured provisions of your own car insurance. Whether or not you have a claim is a complex issue, so ask your personal injury attorney if you can get paid under those provisions.
Medical bills stemming from car accidents depend on either the insurance companies or your own wallet for payment. Accidents at work, however, get immediate coverage through your employer’s worker’s compensation insurance. If you’re hurt at work, you don’t have to pay anything for your medical care. In North Carolina, you’re also entitled to $0.56 in travel compensation per mile if you have to travel more than 20 miles round trip for treatment.
If neither you nor the party at fault has insurance coverage and you can’t delay payment, you’re legally responsible for payment of your own medical bills. You may reach out to the medical care provider if you won’t be able to make payments and ask for other payment options. In addition, medical bills are dischargeable in bankruptcy. If your medical expenses are truly crippling, you may consider filing for bankruptcy as a last resort.
If you’ve been injured in an accident, including workplace injuries, contact one of our experienced attorneys. We’re happy to give you a consultation to discuss your unique situation and your best options for getting the medical care you need.