My wife went to the emergency room with what she thought was a broken ankle. It turned out to be a bad sprain. We were three days away from her new insurance starting so we got landed with a bill for $1,400. However, when we checked into the Emergency Room I asked for a quote, and they said that X-rays and a consultation would be $400 total. We felt that was okay, but as usual with the corrupt and greedy system in the US, they added on another grand by the time the final bill came. We disputed it with them and they refused to budge or negotiate with us in any way. They started sending threatening letters.
So my wife took them to small claims and sued them. We represented ourselves and the hospital sent a lawyer and an expert witness to testify against us. The judge found in our favor that we were quoted a specific fee for services, and the bill was not consistent with that quote.
It took the hospital four months after the judgment to accept defeat and issue us a refund check, which included the $150 it cost to file the claim. Even after the judgment they reported us to a debt collection agency claiming we still owed them money.
After I wrote them a letter threatening to re-sue them they relented, and complied with the legal judgment we had obtained against them.
So the moral of the story is to always ask for a quote for service if you are in a position to. It may come in handy in the future if they try and stick it to you.
As to some other comments I've been reading. Medical bills DO show up on your credit and will affect your score. Although generally lenders don't really care much about them. So it is unlikely to affect you borrowing money in future.
If you simply don't pay a medical bill they will NOT refuse future emergency treatment as that would be illegal.
However, what they will do is eventually turn the debt over to a debt collection agency, who will hound you for the money. You will eventually get sued and if they win, they will have a judgment against you. If you fail to pay the judgment they could apply for a garnishment of your wages. It is highly unlikely that you will be forced into bankruptcy, but it is quite possible that after months of harassing letters and calls, they will simply obtain the legal right to garnish your wages until the debt is paid off.
There is a new movie coming out this year called Sicko. It is about the terrible state of the health care system in America. Hopefully this documentary will expose people to the facts about the big health care rip off in the US. In the richest country in the world there are 47,000,000 Americans with no proper coverage. Millions more who are under-insured. But to add insult to injury Americans pay just over $5,000 per capita which is nearly double most over countries in the world, yet our system is far less inclusive. We are spending the money, yet it seems to vanish into a large corporate black hole, and people like you get screwed.
I really hope the health care system gets a complete overhaul. It is definitely in need of one.
But all that said, you need to make arrangements to pay off your medical bills. Even if it is in installments. They won't just go away. But if you make a fuss and talk to the right people, they may give you a bit of a discount. Medical corporations have a nice little scam going, they don't want adverse publicity. So sometimes if you make enough fuss, they will make a more palatable arrangement with you.