Lowering a Stupidly High Medical Bill: Replay
(February 9, 2021)
Ok, so I wrote the substance of this newsletter (as much of it as applies to the headline, anyway) last year. I am repeating it not only because I did not write a proper newsletter for this week (although I must confess that that dereliction of duty is part of the reason). Oh, no! I am repeating it 1) because the information in it bears repeating, and because 2) I wish to elaborate on something. I will do the latter at the end. So.
I will now turn the floor over to Mr. Hunter East, a very intelligent and experienced insurance person with whom I have been acquainted for a few years now. He knows the medical insurance business inside and out, and is more than willing to share what he knows with anyone who asks him. So please listen to what he has to say.
The first thing you'll usually get is a bill from the medical provider or office. Take a look to see what the total charges are and if your insurance (if used) gave you any benefits, discounts, or co-pays. An insurance company typically sends out an EOB (explanation of benefits) to you as well. You want to make sure that the EOB and the bill from the hospital match up. If not, you should contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Find out where the discrepancy is and address that first. Sometimes the hospital didn't run the insurance or didn't run it properly. In that case, you'll need to reach out to the hospital and ask them to correctly run your insurance on your bill.
If the claim was filed at an in-network hospital or doctor's office (meaning they accept your insurance there), then you should have some form of an overall discount on the bill first. Then the rest of charges are usually yours to cover up to a certain amount. Once you know the figure you are being asked to pay, DO NOT PAY IT IMMEDIATELY! If it is a sizable bill, you should be able to negotiate that price with the hospital. If you can do this in person, even better, but not everyone has the time. If needed, call the hospital and ask to speak with the billing department (having the bill on hand will help with codes, ID numbers, and invoice numbers).
Remember to be nice to the billing department! Even if the bill is incredibly expensive or the procedure was laughably simple, be nice as negotiations tend to go much farther when people have a level head. This is where you need to leave emotion out of the call to the best of your abilities. Let them know that the bill is a bit too much for you to cover outright. Ask them what they can do to chop it down a bit.
Normally, I'd say whatever number they come back with, still ask them what else they can do because I've found that they will go lower, but only if you ask! I've had discussions with nurses and those in the health care industry and they routinely tell me that they are surprised that people don't try to negotiate their bills. Don't be scared to ask them to go lower as they don't know your situation. If you can get 40-60% off the bill, I'd say you're doing well. HOWEVER....
Let's say they are not playing ball with your requests. For whatever reason, they are not interested in adjusting the bill at all. Every now and then, this will happen so again, don't be emotional about it. Instead, play it cool and tell them you'll need to set up a payment plan for this bill. The truth is, if you pay SOMETHING on your medical bill every month, they won't send it to collections. This way, it doesn't affect your credit and you can pay a small amount regularly. Make sure to elongate the payment period as much as possible (months instead of days or weeks) and stay away from any medical-credit plans. You want an interest free type of payment plan!
Typically after a year, a hospital will not want the outstanding debt on their books and will look for a way to resolve that bill. If you've been paying a small amount every month, you could call them after 12 months of payments and ask if they can settle this for a lump sum that is smaller than what is left. You'd be surprised at how often the hospitals jump at that request, so keep track of how long you've been utilizing the payment plan. Hopefully this information can keep you out of harm's way when it comes to expensive medical bills!
Even better, Hunter says it's ok to call him if you have a question about this or about medical insurance. Or about paying for things medical, whether it's doctors or clinics or pharmaceuticals or anything. If he can help, he would like to. So I strongly suggest you take him up on that. He's at (865) 455-0558, or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, here is the point upon which I need to briefly elaborate. I have been called to task for not just exhorting people NOT to pay their honestly-incurred medical bills, but also for actually providing them information on how to do so. Someone out there feels that that is dishonest. To that, I say "pooh".
Was that brief enough? I hope so.
More than half of all bankruptcies involve medical bills -- over half! -- and in the majority of those cases, the people declaring bankruptcy actually HAD insurance. The typical hospital stay will cost you $10,000 for the hospital alone, not to mention the imaging, the tests, the procedures, and all the specialists who open the door, look at you, see that you're still alive and bill you $500 for the privilege. That is ABSURD.
Don't think that insurance companies don't already do this. It's not uncommon for a hospital to accept a patient's copayment or balance payment in total payment of a bill, and write off the insurance company's share. The big players in this game dicker back and forth and cut each other slack the entire time. There's no reason you can't play that game with them.
American medicine costs too much. We all know it. The game is rigged. Don't be the mark. Don't let an illness ruin you in more ways than one. Follow Mr. East's instructions. It will save you a boatload of money and the system will not blink an eye, believe me. Just try it and see.
--dr. diane holmes
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