It’s well-known that in this country, medical debt is one of the leading causes of bankruptcy. Recently, we discussed ways to eliminate, or at least pay down, your medical debt. However, it’s best to avoid getting into medical debt at all.

Large medical bills may be unavoidable if you suffer a serious illness or injury. However, with some planning and by asking questions before getting non-emergency care, you can avoid being saddled with medical bills you can’t pay. Let’s look at a few things you can do.

Don’t opt for high deductibles and high co-pays you can’t afford. When you’re shopping for health insurance, a high-deductible, high co-pay plan will typically cost less than one with a lower deductible and co-pays. However, if you can’t afford to pay that deductible or those co-pays without putting them on your credit card and having to pay the amount off over time, you shouldn’t choose that option. If you do choose a plan with a high deductible, make sure you have enough put away in a savings account to cover it should you need to.

Find out upfront what medical treatment will cost. Assuming that you’re not on a table in the emergency room with a ruptured appendix or other urgent situation, you can and should ask about the price of care. If the treatment is something you need but can’t afford, ask your provider what kind of payment plan or discounted price can be worked out. Don’t be ashamed to say that you can’t afford the amount they quote you. Many providers would rather get a portion of what they would normally charge than have to send an account to a collection agency.

Avoid out-of-network providers. There’s a big difference between the cost of in-network and out-of-network care. Check your insurance company’s website to make sure that any provider you’re considering is in their network. Do the same if your primary care physician wants to refer you to a specialist. If you can’t avoid an out-of-network provider, at least find out how much of the treatment will be covered by your insurer.

If your current medical debt already has impacted your ability to keep up with your other bills, find out what your options are. An experienced bankruptcy attorney can provide valuable guidance.