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Did You Know You Can Negotiate Your Medical Bills?

Even with health insurance, you can rack up medical bills if you need an extraordinary surgery or simply have to stay in the hospital for a long period of time to recuperate from a dangerous illness or devastating injury. And for those without health insurance, one simple accident could land you in the hospital for a week and in debt for years.

But did you know that you can negotiate medical bills and get them lowered to a more manageable level? You can, and here are some tips on how to do it.

Act Quickly

hospitalYes, you’ve just gotten out of the hospital and have enough to deal with as it is, but analyzing, disputing and negotiating your medical bills is time-sensitive. It will be much easier to deal with if you take care of it sooner rather than later. Try to get the process rolling within 90 days of your discharge.

Get Help

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about all of this, it is completely understandable. Stress is not conducive to healing, so if disputing your bills is something you just can’t handle right now, get help. Patient advocates know the system much better than you do and can make this a much easier process. They may charge you a certain percentage of the savings they are able to negotiate for you, but stay away from anyone who wants to charge you up front.

Think of it as hiring a realtor or CPA; yes, you can do it yourself, but it might turn out to be a confusing, rocky and often frustrating journey.

At the very least, ask a family member to help you stay organized and on top of things. Having another person at any meetings with the billing department, whether in person or on the phone, can be a real help. He or she can ask questions that you might not think of, can verify information later, and can generally serve as an excellent confidence booster.

Review Your Bills Meticulously

Billing mistakes happen quite frequently, and it’s up to you to review your bills meticulously to spot the errors. Find services on the bill that you didn’t receive, or charges that seem outrageously high ($20 for a bit of gauze, for example).

Routine supplies like sheets, gowns and gloves shouldn’t appear on your bill in the first place, since they should be considered part of your daily room fee. Speaking of the room fee, if you were discharged in the morning, check to be sure you weren’t charged a full day’s room fee for the day you left.

Another oversight that might occur includes being charged for medication that was not provided by the hospital. If you brought your own medication, be on the lookout for this billing error.

Dispute Insurance Rejections

Once you’ve had all erroneous charges removed from your bill, it’s time to determine what you will have to pay out of pocket. If your insurance company rejects your claim, dispute it. Insurance companies accept previously rejected claims more often than you might think, but they won’t overturn their decision unless you ask.

Can You Pay Part Up Front?

Once you know how much you have to pay out of pocket, it’s time to work something out with the hospital’s billing department. One strategy is to pay a large percentage of the bill up front. In this case, the remainder of the bill is often withdrawn, so you end up having to pay less than the original cost. This can be very useful if the bill is relatively small but would still make your bank account weep if you had to pay it in full.

Payment Plans

However, if the bill is extraordinarily high and you have enough money in the bank to pay much—but not all—of the bill up front, you’re probably faced with the prospect of having to spend your entire life savings on a single bill.

Don’t do that. Instead, work out a payment plan with the hospital, in which you send monthly payments at a pre-agreed minimum.

Competitive Pricing

Hospital charges can vary wildly from one to the next, especially if one hospital is located in an affluent area and another is located in a more working class area. If you find out the price of another hospital’s services, you can use this information to try to negotiate a lower bill.

You may or may not be successful in lowering the bill as much as you’d like, but the important thing is to try. Otherwise, you will have to file bankruptcy or take out a loan, neither of which are very appealing options. Remember to ask for help if you need it.