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Sickness can beget debt, which can then turn around and beget more sickness. That’s the all-too-unfortunate cycle for people across the country who find themselves with overwhelming medical debt, the most common reason a debt collector might come after someone, with 1 in 5 households going into debt to pay for medical care.

Because hospitals, health care providers, insurers, employers sponsoring insurance, and others are responsible for people incurring medical debt, they can all intervene earlier to prevent that from happening.

This week on the “First Opinion Podcast,” Michelle Proser addresses ways to prevent medical debt and offers potential stopgaps that could help people get out of debt and into necessary, supportive health care environments.


“If we want to improve health outcomes and eliminate health inequities as an entire health care system, we really need to think about those care experiences more holistically — of which medical billing is an important part,” Proser said.

This conversation emerged from Proser’s First Opinion essay, “How hospitals and health systems can help patients avoid medical debt.” She is a senior director of the Financial Health Network, which recently published a series of reports on preventing medical debt.


If you are facing medical debt, or are worried about it, Proser offers a few resources:

  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (a federal agency responsible for consumer protection in the financial sector)
    • Tips for navigating complex medical billing and collections
    • Knowing your rights and protections
    • Submitting complaints against a company for debt collection and billing practices
  • “Never Pay the First Bill” (Portfolio, 2021), a book by journalist Marshall Allen, explains health care billing and pricing and uniquely equips readers with tools to avoid being bilked or overpaying for services.
  • “How to spot expensive errors on your medical bill, and when you should ask for an itemized bill,” written by, does what the headline promises.
  • “5 Ways to Keep Medical Debt From Killing Your Credit” by AARP is a beginner’s guide to medical debt.
  • “Getting Out Of Medical Debt Can Feel Impossible. Here’s How To Do It” is a helpful episode of NPR’s “Life” Kit podcast. Its “Bill of the Month” examples are eye-openers.
  • If you’ve already accrued this kind of debt, the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling can help you find a good credit counselor.

Be sure to sign up for the weekly “First Opinion Podcast” on Apple PodcastsStitcherGoogle Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.

And if you have any feedback — First Opinion authors to feature on the podcast, vocal mannerisms the host needs to jettison, kudos or darts — email us at [email protected] and please put “podcast” in the subject line.

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