When a medical emergency arises and health insurance falls short, many consumers look for financing options to take care of health care bills.

But New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says this can be a financial minefield, especially if the patient’s clinic or health care provider pushes an expensive credit card option.

Health care debt is the number one cause of individual bankruptcy, says Schneiderman, and your bill can skyrocket when interest and fees are added.

Personal incentives

Some doctors and dentists have arrangements with credit card companies to offer you financing, with health-related names for what are essentially high-interest credit cards. Consumers need to beware these offers, Schneiderman advises.

First, explore all of your options before you apply for a health care credit card, and evaluate whether a credit card is the best way to pay for your health care needs.  Ask your health care provider if you can work out a payment plan to spread out your payment rather than opening a credit card account. 

If you must borrow, check with your bank or credit union to find out whether you can obtain a loan with more favorable terms than a credit card.  If you do take out a health care credit card, only charge what you can afford.  Remember that interest and fees that apply to credit cards can mean you will end up paying much more than the actual cost of your health care. 

Credit card calculator

Schneiderman has a credit card calculator on his website to show you home much you could end up paying with a medical credit card. Using the calculator, we entered $10,000 as the amount of the charge, 29.9 percent as the interest rate, and $300 as a monthly payment.

Using that criteria, it would take you 73 months to pay back the loan, including $11, 639.62 in interest, more than twice the amount charged in the first place.

Don't be pressured

Schneiderman says some health care providers aggressively market health care credit cards to their patients.  Do not allow your health care provider to pressure you into signing up for a credit card that you may not want or need. 

Be aware that health care providers may be promoting these credit cards because the cards ensure that providers are paid in full, not because it is in your best interest to pay for health care with a credit card.  Before applying for a credit card through your health care provider, ask if they have a financial incentive in promoting the card.

Finally, make sure you read and understand any financing documents your health care provider gives you before signing the documents.  Some health care providers may attempt to sign you up for a credit card without explaining that you are signing up for a credit card issued by a third party bank, not your health care provider.

Cuomo probe

Schneiderman's predecessor, current New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, launched an investigation last year that found some health care providers pressured consumers into using GE Money's CareCredit "through fast-talking sales pitches and deceit."

Cuomo said the investigation also found that medical credit card issuers often pays kickbacks in the form of rebates to the providers based on how much business they charge consumers on the credit cards.