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AARP: Doctors swaying older patients to take on credit card debt

AARP and The New York Times report that some doctors and dentists are convincing older patients to use high-cost credit cards to pay for medical services that Medicare won't cover. Authorities in Florida and a number of other states say that older patients are essentially being swindled by this shady practice.

The scenario might unfold like this: an elderly patient goes to a doctor, and the doctor says the patient needs a treatment that Medicare doesn't cover. On the spot, the doctor offers a credit card plan. But when the bill comes in the mail, the patient learns that the credit card has a 30-percent interest rate. In many cases, the patient would have probably forgone the procedure if it was made clear that using a credit card to pay for it would lead to significant debt problems.

It's also important to remember that many elderly patients are on a fixed income. Nevertheless, the attorney general's office in New York discovered that some health care professionals had tried to convince patients to get a credit card from a particular company because that company gave discounts to the doctors. It was also discovered that health care providers misled patients about how the credit cards worked, and some patients were led to believe that they were setting up a payment plan with the provider.

Elderly patients and their loved ones need to be aware of the perils of credit cards with high interest rates. Debt settlement companies will claim to help debtors by creating a repayment program, but often these companies are in cahoots with the credit card companies. Florida residents with heavy credit card debt may want to speak with an attorney about the available options for avoiding bankruptcy.

Source: AARP, "Older Patients Steered Into High-Interest Credit Plans," Carole Fleck, Oct. 18, 2013

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