I recently told you about my weekend hospital visit that totaled $30,124 from a surfing accident I had back in December.
Fortunately, my insurance erased more than 90% of that bill and the total cost for the stay ended up being just a couple grand. But what if I didn’t have insurance or what if my visit wasn’t covered?
I’ve been thinking more about what people do when they’re stuck with high hospital bills. What are your options? How much can you negotiate?
It’s estimated that hospitals in the U.S. overcharge their patients by about $10 billion total every year. Patients are paying markups of 100-1000% annually without even realizing it. This is a huge problem in our country.
Before you panic, know that most hospitals are willing to cut you a deal. As long as you know who to talk to and what to look for you can almost always slash a few decimals off your hospital bill. Here are some tips on how to do it.
1. Be Proactive
If you have a procedure that’s not an emergency, ask for a discount ahead of time. Explain your circumstances upfront to your doctor if you’re living on a fixed or low income. A lot of facilities have programs in place to help those who are financially strapped, but they don’t necessarily advertise unless you ask.
And when you’re negotiating, try to do it through email. It’s best to have a paper trail if you successfully negotiate a discount in case you need to remind the billing department of your agreement. Another tip is keep notes during your hospital stay.
Have a family member or friend help you out. You want to log all the procedures and services you receive so you can compare when your bill arrives.
2. Pay in Cash
Talk to your doctor or the billing manager and ask if they’re willing to give you a discount if you pay in cash. Cash will save the office credit card fees and staff time processing paperwork.
Make sure you point these out when you make the offer, and if you have the means offer to pay the full amount upfront if they lower the bill even more.
3. Check for Billing Errors
Eighty percent of medical bills have at least one error. Always ask for an itemized bill so you can determine whether you’ve been overcharged for a service. Medical bills are notoriously hard to decipher and it’ll look like a bunch of numbers next to your costs.
If you’re unsure of what a code means, track it down online so you can see what you’re being billed for and whether or not you actually received that treatment. Codes might be mismatched, which means they don’t line up with your diagnosis.
If the codes don’t match, your insurer will most likely decline to pay any portion of this claim.
Watch out for duplicate billing and unbundling, when services that should have been billed under one umbrella diagnosis or code are broken out, sometimes adding up to additional costs. If you suspect your bill has an error, call your doctor, the hospital or your insurance provider to let them know and ask for a new, accurate bill.
4. Do Your Research on Insurance Rates
Look up the fair market price for the care you received. This is the amount providers regularly accept from insurance companies as payment in full, and it’s the amount you should aim for in your negotiations.
You can find this information in the Healthcare Bluebook. After you know what you should be paying, contact the billing department and explain the situation.
Ask to lower your bill to be in-line with the market price. Be polite and keep your composure, no one likes helping someone rude.
5. Negotiate Payment Terms
Sometimes you’ll run into service providers that won’t budge on price — don’t cave. Ask if there are any payment plans that could meet your needs instead.
Tell the billing representative exactly how much you can pay and when. If they ask for larger payments — and they will — explain that you can’t afford to do more. Make it crystal clear your ability to make payments. If you’re really having a tough time, drop the word “bankruptcy.” Most providers would rather receive some payment than nothing at all.
Most of the time if you pay small amounts over an extended period of months, the provider won’t turn you over to collections. They’ll accept your money each month and send you a new bill the next month, unless you miss a payment.
So don’t commit to more than you can afford, because as soon as you’re late on a payment, you lose all negotiating power.
6. Hire a Billing Advocate
If all else fails, consider hiring a medical billing advocate. The downside is most billing advocates cost money, though you typically don’t pay unless they’re successful negotiating you a lower bill.
Lastly, whatever you negotiate, make sure you follow through on your end of the deal. If you said you’d send in regular monthly payments, make sure they’re being sent on time every month.
Failing to keep up your end of the bargain could lead to the provider rescinding any discount you negotiated and land you in the collections department.
I hope you don’t find yourself in a situation where you need to use any of these tips. But if you do, know there are ways to reduce the costs.
To a richer life,
— Nilus Mattive
Editor, The Rich Life Roadmap