When you ask many people what situations they dread the most, bankruptcies and medical emergencies may be among the first few things they mention. What is particularly troubling is how often these two mishaps occur together. With the issue of healthcare coverage dominating political discourse in recent years, many Americans feel uncertain about the future of their health insurance and their finances. Fortunately, there are ways to prepare for the unexpected, and when the unexpected happens, to ensure it doesn’t lead to a financial catastrophe.

Medical expenses are a major cause of financial insolvency. A 2007 study from the American Medical Association found that 67% of people who filed bankruptcy did so because of unpaid medical bills. This doesn’t happen necessarily to the poorest people, but many middle-class homeowners can be financially undone by medical expenses. Half of all foreclosures were caused by out of control medical expenses.

There are a number of ways you can avoid letting medical expenses lead to financial peril. Many of these tips involve preparation and staying aware and informed.

1.    Understand the Details of Your Insurance Policy

Your insurance policy may not make the most interesting reading, but it is valuable to do your homework and to make sure you understand what exactly what is covered and what isn’t. It is well worth the time spent perusing the fine print before an emergency arises, and you may find that you don’t have as much coverage as you thought.

2.    Pay Attention to Your Bills

The dominant form of snail mail these days is bills, and few people look forward to getting something in the mailbox. Whether you receive your bills by paper mail or in digital form, it is essential that you do not ignore them. It may be hard to force yourself to look at these bills during financially tight times, but it is important not to let bills get out of control. Respond to your bills and be proactive. If you can’t pay the full amount at one time, you may be able to discuss it and even negotiate paying what you can.

3.    Who Is In Your Network?

If you have an upcoming procedure that is not an emergency, make sure that everyone involved is part of your network. The term “drive-by doctoring” refers to a situation where you are covered to use a certain physician, but an assistant doctor might cost extra. Be assertive in checking beforehand who will be performing procedures, and prevent extra expenses from piling up.

4.    Raise Money

Rather than borrow from credit cards and other short-term, high-interest forms of debt, consider raising money among friends and relatives or take advantage of crowdfunding sites. It may seem hard at first to ask for help, but there are many people who have successfully raised money for medical expenses on the web and in person. Know that your situation is one anyone could find themselves in and swallow your pride. It is preferable to facing huge debt as you recover from an illness.

Although many people deal with financial problems due to medical expenses, some of these situations can be prevented. The illness or emergency may be unexpected, but there are preparations everyone can make to keep the doctor bills from piling up. Keeping your savings in top shape, looking closely at your healthcare plan, and staying on top of your medical bills are ideal ways to prevent medical expenses from gutting your finances. Keep your finances healthy, and medical recovery can be free of stress.