Guest post by David Holt
Did you know that you can negotiate your medical bills? If not, you are not alone. In fact, the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States is due to medical debt. Ten million Americans with active health insurance plans still have trouble paying their medical bills.1
You really have four options when presented with a big medical bill that you simply cannot afford. You can:
- Declare bankruptcy
- Fund-raise money
- Take out loans to pay the bills; or
- You can negotiate
I am an advocate of negotiation. Why? It preserves your credit, it keeps your financial need completely private, and in the long run, it makes you a smarter healthcare consumer once you understand how the system works.
Here are three quick tips that will help you to negotiate your medical bills regardless of whether you have a health insurance plan.
Tip #1 – First learn how to spot medical billing errors without any knowledge of complex coding. Up to 8 in 10 medical bills contain errors because of coding mistakes!2 Common issues include:
- Upcoding to a more expensive treatment
- Duplicate billing by charging more than once for the same procedure.
You can spot these errors by requesting an “itemized bill” from your your healthcare provider and then going over each line of the bill with your doctor or clinic. You may be surprised by what you find.
Tip #2 – Price-shop your health insurance and your treatments before you go in for healthcare. For starters, does your healthcare plan really fit your needs? Check health insurance quotes to confirm you have the best health insurance for your medical needs. Then, once you have a health insurance plan, price-shop your healthcare BEFORE you go in for treatment. There is a healthcare blue book just like the automotive blue book for buying cars. Make use of this to determine what prices are reasonable for your location and type of care.
Tip #3 – Learn to negotiate. State that you are willing to pay something, but unable to pay the full amount. These words trigger the healthcare provider to work with you to figure out an arrangement. There are often financial assistance programs available, but you have to prod and dig to find them. Do not be afraid to make a discounted offer to close the account. I recommend an offer around 60% of the original medical bill. I choose this number because when your medical bill goes to collections, the healthcare provider has to pay the collection company 20-30% of the amount collected. Also, you will have better success if you are able to pay cash up front, rather than over a period of time on a payment plan. For example, if you can offer $600 now for a $1000 bill, this would be a great offer for the healthcare provider. Hold strong here. This is by no means easy, but I am confident that you can do it without the help on an attorney.
David Holt is a healthcare attorney and cofounder of CutMedicalBills.com – an online training course to help Americans negotiate medical bills themselves and prevent large future medical bills. When not lawyering, David enjoys exploring the Minnesota outdoors and a game of Cribbage.
This article is referencing current medical bills, or bills that are still with your healthcare provider and have not been sent to collections.
1 “ The Rise in Health Care Coverage and Affordability Since Health Reform Took Effect.” The Commonwealth Fund. January 2015. http://www.commonwealthfund.org/~/media/files/publications/issue-brief/2015/jan/1800_collins_biennial_survey_brief.pdf?la=en
2 “How to Fight a Bogus Bill.” Jessica Silver-Greenberg. Wall Street Journal. February 19, 2011. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703312904576146371931841968