Learning how to negotiate medical bills is the most effective way to help reduce your medical expenses. You may have visited the doctor for a simple procedure, and had some tests done, or perhaps you have a more serious condition and you had a prolonged hospital stay in the recent past, and when the bill arrives, you realize that it is more than you expected, and that you will have difficulties to pay it.
This scenario is more common than we might think, and nearly one in five Americans are struggling with medical bills, particularly because they are unprepared for it or have underestimated the cost.
However, many people are surprised to find out that the total due on their medical bill isn’t set in stone, and can be negotiated and lowered. There are strategic ways to avoid medical debt and visits from the collection agency, such as financial assistance programs or negotiations with your provider of medical services.
By understanding the best steps to take and therefore understanding how to negotiate medical bills, you can be working with your hospital, doctor and other professionals and not against them. Sometimes, they offer a repayment plan that will suit your financial abilities, or they reduce the total amount if you offer to pay the entire bill up front. With over 80% of medical bills containing errors, it is really important to know what you’re looking at and what to look for in medical bills and how to possibly negotiate a lower balance.
5 steps to negotiate medical bills
1. Get organized and get the process started
The first step to negotiating medical bills is keeping track of every bill you receive. In order to look for errors or apply for assistance you will need to have an overview of all bills and costs related to your treatment. This shows that you are organized and are keeping track of your expenses accordingly. It also displays a real interest in finding a solution to the problem by taking initiative. It could be very useful to create a spreadsheet where you will keep all the bills you have received.
2. Negotiate a discount on services
Very often, the charges you receive may not be the same as someone who had the same procedure you did. This is because the market value and price varies depending on where and when you receive treatment. Think of a hospital as a business. They require to increase their costs to increase their margins. However, many hospitals are open to negotiate. Hospitals do not charge the same amount for their services, and one way to save a lot of money is by negotiating the prices with them. You can negotiate with them to the amount that private insurance companies or Medicare/Medicaid would pay for services, or you can offer to pay the entire bill in full if they give you an affordable discount.
Your personal story of the financial hardship you’re facing can also help you in negotiating your discount. Be sure to provide more than enough proof of your current circumstances. This includes household bills, other medication costs, salary outlines and even letters of witnesses.
3. Negotiate a payment plan
Before reaching out to the hospital for a payment plan, you should decide how much you can realistically pay per month. Once you know that, you should speak to the billing department about the due date for payment of your bill, and if you can extend that time period, request an interest-free payment plan, and request to receive statements that show your payments and your remaining balance.
Whatever you agree with the department, make sure that you get a formal documentation of your agreed-upon payment plan.
4. Look for billing errors
With the high percentage of error in billings, identifying medical bill errors could save you a significant amount of money. Once you know where to look, it can be a lot easier to spot billing errors, and thus negotiate discount based on them.
The easiest thing and the one you should look for first is duplicate charges, and highlight if you find any. You should also make sure that you aren’t charged for canceled appointments and procedures. This will help build a stronger case that you have been wrongly paying for expenses that have not be received.
5. Find out if you’re eligible for hospital financial assistance
Some hospitals offer financial assistance to their patients. You should talk to the hospital staff and see if you are eligible for any financial aid program, and if they can fully or partially cover some of the medical costs which you cannot afford. Otherwise, setting up a fundraiser online can be a simple task that can help offload any of the cost, particularly if you are finding the process dealing with hospitals a long one.
Using these 5 steps on how to negotiate medical bills, health professionals and patients can meet somewhere in the middle that not only allows patients to receive the treatment and care they deserve, but also pay for services they require.
1) 7 Tips For Fighting And Paying A Big Hospital Bill: http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2013/09/17/you-got-a-10000-hospital-bill-now-what/
2) A Guide to Negotiating Medical Bills: http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/health/2014/09/03/negotiating-medical-bills/
3) 5 Expert Tips for Negotiating Your Medical Bills: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2014/10/16/5-expert-tips-for-negotiating-your-medical-bills