How to lower your medical bills

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You can take all the right steps and get a big medical bill, of course. To avoid financial problems, try the following.

Never automatically pay a hospital or supplier bill. That’s because a doctor’s office or other facility should first send their bill directly to your insurance — Medicare, Supplemental Medicare, Medicare Advantage, or private insurer — to see what portion of the bill will be covered, Donovan says. If you have insurance and receive a bill from a hospital or doctor, contact the provider to ensure that the bill has been submitted to your insurance. Once it has been, your insurer should send you a summary notice or explanation of benefits showing any outstanding amounts.

Make sure the invoice is correct. Nearly half of all medical bills contain at least one error, including duplicate charges or charges for services you never received, Donovan says. If you’re facing a large bill and you have to pay part of it, ask for a bill detailing everything you’ve been charged and go through it line by line, she says. Find something? Dispute any charges that shouldn’t be there with the provider.

Litigation costs related to medical errors. Let’s say you developed an infection in the hospital after having your knee replaced. At the very least, you should dispute any additional costs for the care required to treat this infection. You might even consider asking for a postponement for the original procedure, especially if the mistake caused you to miss work or cause other financial harm. There’s no guarantee that even extra charges will be forgiven or reduced, Donovan says, but it’s worth a try.

Find out about a hospital’s financial assistance programs. Non-profit hospitals must by law provide financial assistance. Some states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington — require all hospitals to provide discounted or free care to many low-income people. Even if you live in another state, “there’s no shame in asking for financial assistance,” says Donovan. The CFPB’s most recent report on medical debt found that hospitals did not always let patients know that financial assistance was available unless they asked for it. And a Kaiser Health 2019 news analysis found that nearly half of nonprofit hospitals billed patients who might have received free or reduced-cost care.

Negotiate. It’s in the supplier’s best interest to work with you to get paid, Donovan says. So figure out how much monthly you can reasonably afford after taking into account housing, food, fuel, and other necessities. Also ask that you are not charged interest. Or if you have the funds, you can also offer a one-time payment for a reduced total bill, she says. This can save you 15% or more.

Acquire help. Free support is plentiful. The Center for Medicare Rights, on the other hand, can guide you through the process of choosing among types of Medicare plans. Contact the center on weekdays during business hours at 800-333-4114 or go to medicarerights.org.

Another option is state health insurance assistance programs, which are run by trained staff and volunteers to help you navigate all the health insurance choices in your state. They can also put you in touch with your state Medicaid office, says Hoadley, who volunteers in his home state of Virginia. Find contact information for your state at shiphelp.org.

Need a hand understanding and negotiating your medical bills? For many, the Patient Advocate Foundation provides these services and more, free of charge. Contact the organization at 800-532-5272 or visit patientadvocate.org.

Consider hiring a lawyer. Find a medical billing specialist through the Alliance of Health Professional Advocates. Then check that the specialist you have found has Patient Advocate Certification Board Credentials.


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