It can happen to anyone: an unforeseen medical emergency comes out of nowhere and sticks you with a huge bill. Even if you have health insurance, a major procedure performed out-of-network on a high-deductible plan could cost you thousands of dollars out of pocket in the form of medical bills.
Don’t have that kind of cash? Don’t panic—you have more options than you might think. Continue reading to learn nine tactics you can use to significantly reduce your medical bills.
1. Shop Around
When you’re hiring a handyman or buying a car, you do your research and get a few quotes before deciding who gets your money. Most people don’t realize, however, that you can do the same for medical services. Ask for an estimate when you’re scheduling an appointment, and compare the quoted rate with other nearby medical facilities. You can even use a site like Healthcare Blue Book to get the “fair” price for various medical services.
2. Avoid the ER
Unless there is a life-threatening emergency, avoid the emergency room and visit a walk-in clinic, primary care doctor, or urgent care facility, instead. An emergency room visit could cost ten times more than a similar trip to urgent care!
Insurance companies negotiate prices with medical providers all the time, but most patients don’t even try for a lower rate. Here’s a secret: you don’t have to pay retail prices on healthcare. It might feel strange and awkward to haggle with a hospital, but doing so could lower your medical bills by a third or more.
In most cases, it’s best to negotiate before care is given, but if you can’t (like in an emergency), don’t fret. You can still negotiate after the treatment is administered, and you might even still have the upper hand.
Here’s why: it’s in the hospital’s best interest to collect payment immediately, rather than eventually sell the debt to a collector for pennies on the dollar. If you are unable to pay the full amount, there’s no harm in asking for a significant reduction, such as offering to pay 30% of the bill if they forgive the remaining 70%. Remember to always be polite, but persistent and firm.
4. Request a Payment Plan
Your medical provider might offer a zero-percent interest payment plan up front. This won’t reduce your bill, but it might make paying it easier because instead of making one lump sum payment, you’ll divide the amount into monthly installments. Even if your provider doesn’t advertise a payment plan, you may be able to negotiate one.
5. Ask if You Qualify for a Discount
Many providers have secret discounts available to you, but they’re not likely to tell you about them unless you ask. Give the billing department a call and inquire if they offer a discount for payment over the phone or for paying cash. When you don’t have insurance or your insurance won’t cover the procedure, let the billing department know—you may receive a “self-pay” discount of 50% or more.
If you have medical debt, you may qualify for a financial assistance program—even if you make good money and have insurance. Submitting a financial aid application to your hospital could knock a percentage off your medical bills.
6. Review Your Medical Bills for Errors
Ask for an itemized bill and scrutinize it carefully. You may find medications that weren’t dispensed, procedures that weren’t performed, or even duplicated charges, extra zeroes, or incorrect dates.
7. Open a Health Savings Account
If you have a high-deductible health insurance plan, you may qualify for a health savings account (HSA). You can make tax-free contributions into your HSA and then use that money to pay for qualified medical expenses. Having an HSA won’t strictly reduce your medical bills, but it will save you money come tax time.
8. Ask Your Insurance to Review Your Claim
Did you receive a bill for something you thought was covered by your health insurance? Insurance companies make mistakes, too. Give your insurer a call and ask that they review the determination. Reversing an insurance error could save you quite a bit of money. Remember: you have the right to appeal your insurer’s decision.
9. Hire a Medical Billing Advocate
Going up against big hospitals and insurance companies to negotiate a medical bill can be intimidating, to say the least. Hiring a professional who knows the ins and outs of medical billing could make a big difference in your bottom line. A patient advocate may be able to help you with negotiation, spotting erroneous billing, or insurance appeals. As payment for their services, they typically retain a percentage of the savings.
Considering Bankruptcy? You have Options
Being sick or injured is stressful enough on their own. When medical bills you can’t afford to pay are piling up, it may feel like one of the toughest times in your life. Bankruptcy is a way to put your medical debts behind you.
If you are considering bankruptcy, schedule a free consultation with St. Louis and Southern Illinois bankruptcy attorney Michael J. Benson to discuss your options. You’ll learn what to expect in the bankruptcy process, and get information about how to repair and rebuild your finances. Your fresh start may be just a phone call away.