There is never a good time to have expected or unexpected medical expenses. No matter how well we budget, there never seems to be enough money put aside to cover the costs. Unexpected medical expenses can kill any budget and leave the person holding the bill in a state of distress. The impact is exponentially worse if something happens when you are uninsured or under-insured. With a few days stay in the hospital having the potential to reach over six figures, a “simple” medical issue can destroy your finances.
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Save Money on Medical Bills
Fortunately, there is hope for reducing the medical expenses. Your healthcare provider doesn’t want to write off your bill as bad debt (or send it to collections). They’d much rather work with you to come up with a solution that works for both parties.
1. Pay Upfront
Go into the appointment prepared to pay. From the moment you have set an appointment, be prepared to pay for the visit up front. If you can offer your healthcare provider the day of your appointment in cash, they are more likely to discount your bill. Guaranteed money up front is better than the risk of not being able to collect the full amount later.
When you are at the appointment, use your negotiating skills. Before the procedure is scheduled, offer to pay up front but at a discounted rate. If the visit usually costs $250 offer them a lesser amount or ask about payment plans. Sometimes leading with the payment plan option can help them guide you toward paying in full at a lesser amount right then.
2. Be Polite
Remain calm, respectful and understanding. When an unexpected bill comes in the mail, it is very easy to get emotional. The costs are usually higher than you expect and that can cause immediate stress — sometimes you weren’t even expecting a bill because you thought insurance was going to cover everything! That moment would not be the time to make phone calls and discuss the bill. Allow yourself time to calm down, take deep breaths and clear your mind.
Contact the billing office and ask to discuss your bill. Talk about each item on the bill in a calm manner. Respect the person you are speaking to, they are following directions that have been given to them and are just doing their job. Understand that they will be more willing to help you when you are level-headed and speaking clearly. In short, screaming at the first person who picks up the phone virtually guarantees you won’t be getting much help with your bill.
3. Ask for Assistance
So what type of assistance should you be asking for? Who should you talk to?
It really depends on the type of medical bill you are facing. All hospitals have a process of collecting on bills they do not realistically expect to collect on. Many hospitals have departments dedicated to discounted or non-profit care that can give you significant discounts. When you get checked into a hospital you can ask for someone with a title like financial manager or revenue manager to start negotiations up front.
If you’re talking with a doctor’s office you need to speak either to the office manager or the billing department. Depending on the size of the operation, you could talk directly with the doctor.
Again, you need to have a business mindset when you talk with them. They want to care for you and you want to pay. But sometimes there is a discrepancy as to how much you can afford. The business — the doctor’s office or hospital — would rather get 75% or 85% of the revenue than have to write off your entire bill as bad debt. If you think you can afford a payment plan, offer to pay some up front and then the rest on a payment plan. Many providers can even offer you payments that don’t cost interest as long as you stay current.
4. Stay in Communication
If you have made an arrangement to pay a certain amount each month towards a bill but find yourself unable to make that amount, contact the billing office immediately. Re-negotiate the arrangement or advise them of when you will be able to make your next payment. No one wants to deal with a collection agency, the doctor’s office included. Keeping in contact with them will prevent your account from being sent into collection where the price can sometimes increase to the original amount charged. Communication is absolutely critical. Ignoring the bill will only lead to more problems.
Medical expenses are never easy to deal with, whether they are expected or not. Negotiating a reduction in their costs can be done, following these steps will ensure that you are successful in paying the smallest amount possible while preserving your credit rating.
Kevin Mulligan is a debt reduction champion with a passion for teaching people how to budget and stay out of debt. He’s building a personal finance freelance writing career and has written for RothIRA.com, Discover Bank, and many others.