August 13, 2023

How to Deal with Medical Debt and Bills

When tackling medical debt, you may have to deal not only with doctors and hospitals, but also with your health insurance company and even an army of debt collectors. Some medical establishments are quite aggressive about collecting debts and may even sue you or try to convince you that you can’t seek further medical treatment if you owe them money.

When you receive your bill, you must first make sure it’s accurate. Look for overcharges, or charges for care and services you didn’t receive. If you find any errors, contact the billing office to have them fixed promptly.

Remember that your bill may be negotiable. Speak with your service provider to try to work out a lower total. Your provider may be able to cut fees, for example.

You can also try to work out a payment plan with your doctor or hospital. In that way, you’ll be agreeing to take on an unsecured debt just like credit card debt. You’ll be responsible for monthly payments of a certain amount, and you may be charged predetermined fees or interest.

Medical Bills without Health Insurance

If you don’t have health care coverage and you know your doctor well, try to deal with him or her directly. See if you can receive a discount by paying in cash; try to work out a payment plan; and/or offer to pay your doctor the lower rate that his office has negotiated with the insurance providers for patients who are covered by major medical plans.

When dealing with a hospital, it’s a good idea to have all of the charges fully explained to you by the billing office. Medical bills can be confusing, and auditing every detail is the best way to protect against honest mistakes or outright fraud.

If an expensive procedure has been added to your bill that wasn’t explained to you – assuming you were in a condition to understand and agree or do not agree to it during treatment – fight it. By showing the hospital that you are not going to accept any unexpected charges, you can often increase its desire to settle your account.

If your income is very low, you may be eligible for Medicaid, a federal/state program that helps low-income people and families who are struggling with medical costs. Medicaid may even cover expenses three months prior to your application for assistance.

In addition, some states require hospitals to offer discounts to uninsured patients regardless of income. Also, some hospitals and medical groups have funds set aside for individuals who do not qualify for other types of assistance.

Medical Bills with Health Insurance

If you have health insurance and you think certain charges should be covered, carefully re-read your policy or contact your insurance agent. If you are certain that you should be reimbursed, or that your doctor or hospital should be paid by your health care provider, file an appeal in a timely manner, as most insurers limit the time you have to question a benefit. It often is just 30 or 60 days.

Be prepared for denials and delays and be careful to keep records of all phone calls and correspondence. That way, if you eventually must file a formal complaint with your state’s insurance commission or contact a consumer law attorney, you have accurate records.

Be aware that in the end, you may still have to pay the bill.

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