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Medical credit cards: Tempting to the vulnerable, but dangerous

When someone has a painful tooth or needs an important medical procedure done, they tend to be in a desperate position. Sure, most wouldn't expect that a medical or dental procedure is free, but one would hope that the treatment wouldn't get them into credit card debt that they couldn't overcome.

More than not wanting to get into credit card debt, patients likely want to believe that their doctors and dentits wouldn't play active roles in trying to basically dupe them into charging procedures. The New York Times warns that patients in New Jersey and across the U.S. aren't just going into regular credit card debt for medical procedures. There is a specific kind of credit card to worry about.

Medical credit cards are marketed to healthcare providers, including dental offices. The conflict of interest that exists is that medical offices might see patients' use of the special credit cards as positive for business. If patients have a way to use credit, doctors and dentists will get paid for their work. Also, patients might be more likely to elect to have certain procedures done. Those factors are good for healthcare providers' bottom line.

But what about the ethics of it all? Some doctor and dentist offices refuse to offer medical credit cards to their patients. They and other critics see it as taking advantage of vulnerable consumers and sticking them with medical bills that they likely won't be able to afford. For example, if someone needs dentures and finds out that the cost is thousands of dollars more than expected, the stress and emotion of it all would likely pressure him into going along with signing up for a medical credit card -- a card that he doesn't fully understand.

The credit cards offered at some medical and dental offices come with dangerous strings attached. A missed payment can result in a huge interest rate such as 30 percent. A bill that was already a lot to take on all of a sudden becomes even more impossible to pay off.

There are impossible debt circumstances. For those times, bankruptcy laws exist to help struggling consumers start over. Whether it is medical debt or other types of credit card debt that is keeping someone down, a bankruptcy lawyer can discuss the situation and the possible resolutions that are available.

The New York Times, "Patients Mired in Costly Credit From Doctors," Jessice Silver-Greenberg, Oct. 13, 2013

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