At least 1 in 4 Americans had trouble paying a recent medical bill, according to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. So if you’re facing a stressful doctor’s bill, you’re certainly not alone.
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Whether you owe hundreds or thousands in medical bills, this debt can not only hold you back financially, but it can also negatively impact your
credit score if the bill gets sent to collections. Plus, it’s just not fun to owe other people money.
The good news is that providers likely want to work with you, and many are now offering more payment solutions and transparency than ever.
This means that you just might be able to negotiate a lower bill or cut a deal to make more affordable payments over time.
If you’ve never negotiated a bill before, it can be tough to figure out where to start. These 7 tips can help you start negotiating your medical bills down so you can pay them off quicker:
For expert insights, I spoke with
Robin Saks Frankel, a personal finance expert and credit card analyst with Forbes Advisor. Just remember, your money and health are very personal. What’s worked for others might not work for you, so always look at your own needs and situation when you’re negotiating.
If you can, find out the pricing for medical procedures and appointments in advance.
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Medical providers are getting better at providing transparent costs for services upfront. So if it’s not an emergency, it’s a good idea to ask for an estimate of what your bill will be, especially if you’re considering a procedure.
You can reach out to your insurance as well to confirm what they will and won’t cover to make sure you’re on the same page. Also, you can ask your provider upfront if they offer any hardship discounts or if they have other assistance available, like payment plans.
And always check over your bill for costly errors.
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Medical billing errors are ridiculously common. After all, human beings code your medical services and we’re all subject to error. It’s estimated that as many as
80% of medical bills contain errors.
While it may seem like extra work to comb through the contents of your bill, it could really be worth it — especially if it helps you save money.
Ask for an itemized medical bill from your healthcare provider and look over it very carefully for these errors:
Mismatched codes: Make sure the code for your medical service or procedure matches the code you’re getting billed for. You can look up these codes online using sites like Find a Code or AAPC.
Upcoding: This is when you’re billed for a procedure that you didn’t actually have, and it costs more than the actual care you got.
Other noticeable errors: This includes things like the wrong date, duplicate procedures, and unnecessary add-ons. If you have a way to view your medical chart online, you can always fact-check what shows up there against what’s on your bill to verify that you’re getting charged for the correct things.
When reviewing your bill, it’s also important to make sure you understand your health insurance benefits and what they will cover. “Compare your health insurance’s Explanation of Benefits (EOB) to the final bill from the medical provider to make sure everything matches up,” says Frankel.
“There could be errors in the codes used to identify procedures and that may result in a charge that isn’t correct.”
If you find issues on your bill, be sure to contact your insurance and your provider to set the record straight.
Make sure you reach out to the right department to negotiate your bill.
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Negotiating your medical bills often just starts with a simple question:
Can I get help with paying this? OR Do you offer payment assistance? The thing is, though, you need to make sure you’re contacting the right person or department so you’re communicating with someone who actually handles billing.
Frankel recommends finding out from your provider’s office if they have their own internal billing department or if they outsource to a third-party billing company. The sooner you make this call, the better — the provider may have financial assistance programs to help you.
It’s worth it to simply ask for a bill reduction and see what the billing department says. Be nice, and explain how you’re struggling to pay the bill and see what the provider offers. According to
, at least 57% of people who negotiate are successful at lowering their medical bills. At minimum, you may be able to get a reasonable payment plan. Consumer Reports
If you’re uninsured, be sure to ask for a price reduction.
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If you’re uninsured, you’re likely to be charged a higher rate for medical services and procedures. This is because you don’t have an insurance company advocating for you or requesting to reduce the price of your medical care.
Use a resource like
FAIR Health Consumer to see what the market price is for your medical treatment. This can give you a good idea of whether there is some wiggle room in the price the provider gave you on your bill and how much the service or procedure might cost.
“Depending on your financial eligibility, you should also see if you can qualify for Medicaid,” Frankel said. “This is the federally-subsidized healthcare insurance program for low-income Americans, and it can be retroactively applied to your medical bills for up to three months before the month you apply for it.”
To learn more about Medicaid and see if you qualify,
And you can also apply for financial assistance.
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“If you receive treatment in a hospital, see if the facility has a financial assistance program to cover a portion of your bills,” says Frankel.
Most times, you can go right to your provider and apply for their financial assistance program, which often takes factors like your income into account. Either fill out the paper or online application as soon as you receive your bill. If you don’t qualify for your hospital or prover’s financial assistance program, see if you can get assistance through a government or nonprofit agency like:
: This is offered through the Social Security Administration to people who meet the Social Security’s standards for disability benefits. Compassionate Allowances
: Find healthcare benefits you may not have known that you qualify for. This is one of the best resources to narrow down all your state and local government programs that may be able to help you with medical expenses. Benefits.gov
: Your local United Way center may have resources on financial assistance programs for medical bills or they may be able to help you out with some of your other household bills so you can free up more money to tackle your medical debt. United Way
: The NAFC can help you find free medical clinics in your area and also connect you with any local churches or organizations that may make donations to help community members with medical bills. The National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics
See if a patient advocate can help you.
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If your medical provider’s billing department has offered you all the discounts they have available, see if you can look into finding a patient advocate who can walk you through the negotiation process.
“Although many patient advocates may charge for their services, there are free services available through
PatientAdvocate.org, as well as other organizations related to your specific illness or issue that may be able to help you negotiate,” Frankel said.
The Patient Advocate Foundation is a 501 c(3) nonprofit charity that provides direct financial assistance to insured patients who meet certain qualifications to help them pay for the prescriptions and/or treatments they need. They work regularly with caregivers, family members, or medical professionals who can reach out on behalf of patients like you who could benefit from their medical assistance programs.
And finally, remember that cash is still king, so if you can pay part of the bill upfront, that might help you negotiate it down.
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As with all negotiating, cash is king, and it could help you score discounted and reduced medical bills if you offer to pay a portion of the bill upfront. Your cash payment could save the provider’s billing department from having to pay your card processing fees, along with the time and effort that goes into sending you multiple bills each month.
If your medical bills go to collections, this may not mean that the bill will show up on your credit report just yet. Medical collection agencies are eager to work with you and collect payment. It’s not uncommon for them to offer a discount on your bill if you are able to make an initial lump payment. Setting aside emergency medical savings or
opening an HSA could be helpful in a case like this so you have cash to negotiate with.
Negotiating your medical bills takes work, but it’s well worth the effort.
Whether you’ve recently received a medical bill in the mail or have been struggling with medical debt for a while, you can start negotiating your bills and getting them paid off once and for all. You don’t need a lot of money to negotiate or even to get someone to negotiate on your behalf.
Most importantly, you can start by just getting on the phone with your provider’s billing department and explaining your desire to negotiate the balance. So many others have been doing this, so it can’t hurt to give it a try.
Have you ever gotten your medical bills lowered? Share your best tips in the comments.
And for more money tips and tricks, check out the rest of our
personal finance posts.
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