We all know that healthcare can be a huge burden for individuals and families alike. In fact, medical debt is the No. 1 source of personal bankruptcy filings in the country. As such, it stands to reason that folks with limited financial resources might take steps to keep their health-related costs as low as possible. But unfortunately, for some families, that means putting off essential care.

In fact, 27% of households with children are likely to delay medical care because they can't afford to pay for it, according to a new report by AccessOne. In doing so, however, they're compromising not only their finances but their family's health.

Woman holds boy on lap while doctor uses tongue depressor on him.


Waiting on medical issues can cost you

Avoiding the doctor for as long as possible might seem like a reasonable money-saving solution, but understand that generally, it's only a temporary one. And sometimes, if you wait too long to address a health problem, it can quickly grow much more serious and much more expensive.

Imagine your child develops a cough that nags after a number of days. In the absence of a high fever or other notable symptoms, you might let it play out rather than fork over a doctor's office copayment you can't easily afford. But what happens if that cough escalates into pneumonia, and your child needs to be hospitalized? Suddenly, you've not only compromised your child's health, but you've also subjected yourself to a bill that will far exceed what your doctor would've charged for a standard visit.

That's why it really doesn't pay to delay medical care, even if you think you can't afford to pay for it. What you should do, however, is take steps to make your healthcare costs more manageable.

Getting a handle on your medical costs

When money is tight, low-cost health insurance might seem like a smart solution. The problem, however, is that the lower your premium costs, the worse your coverage and the higher your deductibles tend to be. So take a look at your health plan and see if it's really meeting your needs, because it might actually pay to pony up for a higher premium, especially if you have kids who tend to get sick often.

Next, make sure you truly understand your health benefits -- because more than half of Americans don't. Some plans require you to obtain referrals or get preauthorized for certain treatments, and if you don't take those steps, you'll risk having claims for those services denied. Similarly, some plans won't cover out-of-network doctors, while others will pick up just a fraction of the cost. The more you study your benefits, the lower your chances of making a mistake that could cost you big time.

Finally, if you can't afford the medical treatment you need, ask your providers about payment plan options. In the aforementioned report, only 21% of adults were presented with financing options when seeking medical care. But just because your doctor's office doesn't offer flexible payment plans as a matter of course doesn't mean the option isn't there.

Delaying medical care is often a dangerous move, especially when children are involved. If you can't afford your healthcare costs, explore your options for making them more manageable. It's a far better bet than putting your health -- or that of a family member -- at risk.