What’s the Worst That Can Happen if I Don’t Pay My Medical Bill?

Medical bills can be daunting, especially when they come unexpectedly or are higher than anticipated. Many Americans grapple with the challenge of managing medical debt, and the consequences of not addressing these bills can be severe.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Not addressing medical bills can lead to severe consequences, including legal actions, credit score damage, and aggressive collection tactics.
  2. The “No Surprises Act” offers protection against unexpected out-of-network charges, ensuring insured individuals aren’t burdened with surprise medical bills.
  3. While ignoring medical bills can escalate problems, strategies like bill negotiation, debt consolidation, and seeking charity assistance can help manage and reduce medical debt.

Consequences of Not Paying Medical Bills

Here’s a comprehensive look at the potential repercussions based on the resources provided:

1. Immediate Repercussions

Reminders and Phone Calls

  • Initially, you’ll receive reminders and phone calls from the healthcare provider urging you to settle the bill.

Additional Charges

  • If the bill remains unpaid, additional charges, such as late fees and interest, may be added to the original amount. These can significantly inflate the total amount owed over time.

Debt Collection

  • After a certain period, typically around 90 days, the healthcare provider might forward your account to a collection agency. This results in increasing letters and phone calls from the agency, which can be persistent and stressful.

2. Impact on Credit Score

  • Collection agencies will report your unpaid balance to major credit bureaus like Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. After a waiting period, typically 180 days, this unpaid debt will appear on your credit report, leading to a drop in your credit score. A lower credit score can hinder your ability to acquire new credit cards or loans and disqualify you from availing the lowest interest rates.

3. Legal Consequences


  • If the collection agency fails to recover the amount, the healthcare provider might file a lawsuit against you. If they obtain a judgment from the courts, they can employ more aggressive collection tactics.

Liens, Wage Garnishments, and Levies

  • A lien could be placed on your property, such as your home, giving the creditor the right to be repaid from the proceeds when you sell that property.
  • Wage garnishments involve the legal withholding of a portion of your earnings to satisfy the unpaid debt.
  • A bank account levy allows the creditor to seize money from your bank account without your permission.

4. The “No Surprises Act” and Protections

  • The “No Surprises Act (NSA)” that came into effect on January 1, 2022, offers some protection against “surprise medical bills.” These are unexpected charges typically from out-of-network healthcare providers. If you have insurance, the NSA can protect you from such bills, including both emergency and non-emergency services.

5. Community Perspectives

  • Some individuals on platforms like Reddit have shared personal experiences of ignoring medical bills without facing wage garnishment or other severe consequences. However, these are anecdotal instances and might not be representative of the general scenario.


While the consequences of not paying medical bills can be severe, it’s essential to remember that there are ways to manage and potentially reduce medical debt. Reviewing bills for errors, negotiating with healthcare providers, consolidating medical debt, or seeking assistance from charity organizations are some of the strategies that can be employed. Ignoring the bills and hoping they disappear is not a recommended approach, as it can lead to more significant problems in the future.

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