Guest post from Beth of LivingWithBeth.com
Even if you have good health insurance, you could end up with some impressive medical bills if you (or anyone else on your policy) need surgery, become seriously ill, or are involved in an accident.
I’ve learned a lot from my experiences with large medical bills, and while every situation and insurance company is different, there are a few things you definitely should NOT do!
Don’t Ignore the Bills
The absolute worst thing you can do is toss all those medical bills into a stack and forget about them. Depending on the laws where you live, hospitals might be able to seek a judgment against you for garnishing your wages or put a lien against your house or other property. They could turn over your account to a collection agency, which may harass you and damage your credit.
I realize that going over medical bills is the last thing you want to do when you’re recovering from an illness or injury, or helping a family member through a health crisis. However, ignoring bills won’t make them go away.
If you have low or no income, you might qualify for charity care. The hospital might also help you locate other options to help you pay your medical bills.
You don’t know until you try, and you should do this as soon as possible. If nothing else, you can call or write a letter saying that you’re still too sick to make payment arrangements, but paying bills is important to you. Give them a date (maybe two weeks in the future) when you would like to speak with someone.
Don’t Pay the Bills in Full
Even if you have enough of an emergency fund to pay a large medical bill without flinching, hold off until you have more information. You’ll want to go over statements and insurance explanations of benefits (EOBs). Plus, you could negotiate a smaller amount for payment in full.
It’s usually not a good idea to pay medical bills using a home equity line, credit card, or other loan. Hospitals sometimes charge zero or very low interest on their payment plans and may require smaller monthly payments.
Don’t Assume You Have All the Paperwork You Need
Some hospitals only send itemized statements upon request. If you’ve signed up to receive health insurance documents by email, they won’t send you a paper document, either.
Before you pay anything, you should scrutinize your hospital and provider statements to make sure that you received all of the services listed on them. Then, compare the EOB to the hospital statement to make sure your insurance was billed correctly.
If you receive bills from other providers besides the hospital, check to make sure that the services weren’t denied coverage by your insurance company. One reason they might decline coverage is if the service was already billed as part of the hospital’s bill.
I’m not saying that providers intentionally try to double dip like this, but I’ve seen it happen, whether by accident or on purpose. Many people will get a bill from a provider and pay it rather than check to see why they’re receiving the bill and why the services were covered, or not covered, in the manner they were.
Don’t Send Random Payments
Hospitals aren’t likely to accept a payment of $10 or $50 here and there as a good faith repayment effort. You need a formal payment schedule. You could also look into any financial assistance available to patients with low income, no insurance, or high-deductible health plans, depending on your situation.
Don’t Pay Someone to Negotiate Your Medical Bills
You don’t need to pay anyone to negotiate your medical bill. You can do it on your own.
Most hospitals want to work with you so they get paid. Even if they are nonprofit, they need to pay the employees and other bills. They wouldn’t have money to keep the lights on if they didn’t work with patients to arrange bill payments.
Some companies offer an employee benefit involving a company that can help negotiate medical bills or at least compare hospital statements to insurance EOBs. If you think this might be the case for your employer, check with your human resources department.
Don’t Be Rude
I prefer to negotiate in writing, but I often have to follow up with a phone call to finalize payment arrangements. I’m always super nice, and everyone I’ve talked with has been very pleasant as well.
If you get on the phone with someone who is extremely unhelpful despite your remaining calm and polite, tell him or her that you’re sorry but will need to call back at another time.
Then, hang up and call back the next day at a different time to see if you get someone else. Most hospitals have at least a few different people in their billing department who answer customer service calls.
The person might have been having a bad day, or perhaps dealing with customers isn’t his/her main job. Write down and save the names of everyone you talk with, along with the dates and times. In the unlikely event that you get nowhere with billing staff, ask to speak to a supervisor.
Remember that you’re negotiating a win-win situation. They’re doing you a favor by accepting affordable payment arrangements. You’re doing them a favor by voluntarily reaching out to them to put together payment plans, unlike many patients.
One Note About How to Write a Negotiation Letter for a Medical Bill
At the top of your negotiation letter, include your address and the name and address of the medical facility. Also, include the patient’s name, billing ID number and date of birth. Include the balance and dates of service and suggest a monthly payment.
Don’t Skip a Payment
If something keeps you from making a payment, call the billing department to request skipping a payment or lowering your monthly obligations.
Do you have any other tips for those with large medical bills?
Beth McIntire writes for the lifestyle blog LivingWithBeth.com, where she shares tips, how-to posts, solutions to common problems, reviews, deals and more.