Credit Cards

The Lure, and Risk, of Medical Credit Cards

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Consider Your Options

Here are some things to consider if your health care provider offers you a medical credit card.

- A medical credit card might make sense. But it’s very important to pay attention to the details, especially the length of the grace period. If you know that you will be able to pay off the full amount before the grace period ends, using a credit card could be a good way for you to reduce the up-front hit to your checking account or savings.

- Look for other payment plans. Ask your medical provider if she has programs for people to pay over time. If she does, the risks of falling behind may be lower, since it’s likely that they don’t charge interest rates as high as those charged by credit cards.

- Shop around for a different doctor. Some doctors are more willing to negotiate on repayment options than others. If you see a doctor who’s part of a hospital system, that system may offer the best prices, especially if you can prove financial need.

- Nonprofit cards. There aren’t many, and thus far their reach is small. But a number of medical nonprofits offer credit cards for medical expenses that are significantly cheaper than major, for-profit cards. One is the Health Share Card, operated by The Access Project, which offers savings for diabetes patients in Iowa. The Access Project also runs a program in Massachusetts that helps people reduce existing medical debt.

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