We all know getting a medical bill is a nightmare in the United States. You shouldn’t be forced to think about whether or not you can afford emergency services and life-saving procedures while you’re dealing with a health crisis. Luckily, negotiating your medical bill is a thing and can help take the financial burden off.
With the tips below, you should be able to talk down your bill and focus on getting well again.
Ask for an Itemized List
When you first get your medical bill, the cost can be terrifying, especially if you’re uninsured. As soon as you’re able, it’s a good idea to ask for an itemized list from your health care provider. According to some companies that make it their job to identify billing errors, as many as 25% of charges on these bills aren’t billable.
Even if the itemized list is entirely accurate for all charges, it’s good to know exactly what you’re being billed for. You can use the list to reduce specific charges too. Often people without insurance are charged the highest rates known as “master rates.” Knowing your charges in detail lets you prepare for negotiating lower rates.
It might help to keep in mind that when you’re dealing with your bill, you won’t be talking directly to your doctor about it (unless you seek them out). You will be going up against your health provider’s billing department. It’s their job to get as much money for the hospital as they can, so they probably won’t make it easy on you.
Once you have the itemized list, do some research online. Find out the costs of the procedures and everything else should cost according to websites like Healthcare Bluebook. Knowing what this gives you some leverage if your health care provider is trying to overcharge you.
You can also flat out ask for a discount. It never hurts to try, right? A lot of doctors know how expensive medical bills are and might be able to help you out. You can also try paying in cash (of course, this one is a little harder for most people). Doctor’s offices are usually pretty cash poor, so they may take less if they can get those dollar bills.
Call your provider and ask them about what sort of relief programs they have. They should offer some for those suffering from financial hardship. If they’re tight lipped about it, ask specifically about their hospital’s bill relief plans. Also make sure to ask which fees can be waived. The key is to be polite yet firm, don’t let them try to wiggle out of helping you.
If you end up at a nonprofit hospital, they are required by law to have relief programs and can reduce or even completely forgive your bill if you qualify. It can take a while to get a good deal sometimes at any hospital, so you may have to be a little pushy. It’s like my mom always says, though, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Annoy the Billing Department
Call them so much they’re willing to knock off the total cost of your bill just to get rid of you. Billing administrators expect to negotiate costs. They won’t go easy on you so just keep calling them until you get a reasonable price. It can take months or even years to get the price down, but it will be well worth it.
Get Insurance Involved
If you have insurance, get them involved in this process. They’re way better at negotiating medical bills than you are. Find out what your policy will and will not cover. Sometimes there are even loopholes you can exploit. Depending on who you talk to in your insurance they may or may not be helpful but you can at least find out why they will or won’t cover something.
Depending on the reason they won’t cover something, you may be able to have your doctor/ the hospital billing department tweak their bill codes. Certain codes may be covered by your insurance while others are not. If you get lucky, you may just turn a thousand dollar out of pocket charge into your insurance’s problem. Better that then an out of pocket expense for you.
Call in a Professional
Did you know there are professional bill reviewers? They can help you make sense of your medical bills and will be able to point out most billing errors. The cost for having a professional review your bill is usually around 25% of the savings. This could change depending on what kind of service you end up using though.
Reviewing your bill is a time-consuming process. The more time you’ve spent in the hospital and the more procedures you’ve gone through, the more complex the billing too. Looking at your bill with someone who knows the ins and outs of how it all works means you won’t get cheated.
They say you have to spend money to make money. In this case, it’s more like spending money to save money, though.
If you can’t afford a fancy bill reviewer, you can also look to nonprofit advocates or counselors. They may not be as effective at getting your bill down, but they will be able to help you figure out the best ways to pay it off. Just make sure you’re careful of scammers who just want to trick you into a high-interest loan though.
If Nothing Else…
Whether you’re able to get the bill lowered or not (and hopefully you are!!), you should set up a payment plan with your medical provider. They’re often 0% interest, and keeping the bill away from debt collectors will keep your credit score safe too. That also means not putting your payments on a credit card which may raise the interest rate you have to pay.
Having a bill hanging over your head sucks but remember that if you are smart, have a payment plan set up, and stay persistent in trying to talk down the costs, it’s okay to leave it unpaid for a while.
There are other expenses in your life that are more important in the short term. If you found these tips helpful, you can also check out our blog on paying off student loan debt too. It may be a long road to being debt-free but don’t lose hope; you’ll get there eventually.