Dear Harry: I have a decent job, but there is no provision for health insurance, so I carry my own. In April, my wife had a procedure which was not covered by our insurance. After a long quarrel with the company, I was convinced that I was not going to get anywhere, so I'm now stuck with the bill for $17,000, which I can't afford to pay right now. The credit guy at the hospital asked me to come in to discuss the bill face to face. Is there some guidance you can give me to reduce the effect of all this on my credit report?

What Harry says: Sometimes, a better description of the services rendered can get the insurance company to change its mind. The next thing to ask for is a promise from the hospital not to report your problem to credit-reporting agencies if something can be worked out. Hospitals are generally cooperative in this regard. Explain your situation to the person you speak with at the hospital and request that they work with you to set up a program of regular monthly payments to get the bill paid. Then try a few longshots. Visit the hospital social worker to see if there are any grants or loans that you can apply for. Ask your employer's human-services people if there are emergency loans that you can get. Some employers have such plans at little or no interest, with extended payment periods. Repayments come out of your salary so you can't be in default. Incidentally, this program can be used with doctors' bills and can be modified to work with other creditors, as well. The important thing is not to let the problem simmer to the point where your credit is badly injured. It will almost never pay to use your credit cards because of the astronomical interest, and it's rarely a good idea to borrow from family members. *

Write Harry Gross c/o the Daily News, 400 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19130. Harry urges all his readers to give blood - contact the American Red Cross at 800-GIVE LIFE.