Access to quality healthcare is not a privilege that only the affluent should be able to afford, but it is a right that should be accorded to all citizens no matter their financial status, gender, race, or religion. In times of illness or emergencies, everyone should be able to receive decent medical care, so people can recover their health and prolong their life. The last thing anyone should be worrying about in a life or death situation is how to pay for those medical expenses.
Unfortunately, people can get access to emergency medical treatment, but they still get slapped with huge hospital bills after they return home. Getting hounded by a bill collector for astronomical medical debts while recovering is a very real scenario that happens all too often. Ordinary people, who are unprepared for emergency treatment or who deal with a long-term illness, face financial ruin because healthcare costs are just too expensive. In this very common scenario, healthcare remains a costly privilege. Since the government is not doing anything tangible regarding this pandemic, here are some tips to help you handle those medical bills with ease:
Face Them Head-On
As tempting as it may be to pretend those medical bills don’t exist, you have no other choice but to acknowledge their existence because debt collectors will never cease hounding you to chase after the money. It may feel unfair that you just faced a medical crisis, and yet, you are now forced to deal with these bills. Ignoring them won’t make them go away; you just wish that it did!
You risk facing the destruction of your good credit standing once those medical bills go to a collection agency. And when that happens, negotiation becomes a whole lot more difficult. The last thing you want is to file for bankruptcy because of medical bills that wipe your assets and life savings clean. Take a deep breath, stay calm, and face those huge stacks of medical bills, so you can prepare a concrete plan of action to address this enormous problem.
You have to be meticulous about keeping track of all the medical bills you receive. Keep them together in a folder and sort them out by date. If things become overwhelming, it might be helpful to create a spreadsheet. You can get many possible billing statements such as from the hospital, the various specialists who worked on your care, the laboratory where all your samples were sent, and the ambulance that took you to the facility. Some of them will be in your insurance network of coverage, and some of them will not be a part of it.
Don’t dilly-dally in calling the billing department of the hospital to ask for an itemized breakdown if you want to see where every single dime went. You can also ask them for the phone number of each service provider because those providers will give you their own billing. List all the phone numbers and contact personnel on paper.
To illustrate, some dental offices outsource their dental billings, so calling the office directly won’t give you the information you need. They’ll direct you to another administrative office that handles the billing with different office personnel. Therefore, be sure to take note of who you spoke with, the contact details, and the date and gist of each conversation. It is your right as a patient to ask for more information, so you can examine the details of the bill. Get a copy of everything, track what you are doing, and organize them all together, so you can see the big picture with ease.
Review Details Vigilantly
After organizing your bills, look them over to check for accuracy. There are many scenarios where medical bills are just plain erroneous with people charged for procedures they did not even have. Take note of every single detail, so you are not taken advantage of. For instance, most patients are discharged in the morning, but later on, they see that they are charged with a full daily-room rate on the day they left the hospital. Some patients bring their own medication, so re-check to ensure those are not billed by the hospital pharmacy.
Other times, patients are overcharged for minor procedures or for simple medical supplies. If you’re not sure about a procedure, call the hospital or medical office to ask for an explanation. If you think you’re being billed for routine supplies, then dispute those charges. Items like gloves, sheets, and gowns are already factored into the daily-room charge, so they have no business being in your final bill.
Check the Details of Your Insurance Policy
Now is also the time to brush up on the details of your healthcare insurance policy. It is important to note what procedures are covered and what are not. Take note of all these details because your goal is to get reimbursement for medical expenses that the hospital failed to charge or your insurer rejected. There may be charges that you aren’t liable for, and crossing those off would reduce your bill.
Speak with Your Insurance Provider
There are instances when an insurance company makes an error and asks you to pay for services that should have been covered. Thus, after reviewing your bill and your insurance policy coverage, speak with your insurance provider to double-check if all the items on the billing factor in payments and discounts should be taken from your insurance policy.
Ask your insurance company to review everything with you because they might be paying less than they should. For instance, some medical bills are coded incorrectly. You go to an emergency room for treatment, but it was coded as a regular clinic visit, so this results in a much lower insurance payment from your insurance provider and a heftier out of pocket expense for you.
Take note: If there are anomalies in the bill, call the people in charge right away, so they can adjust it promptly. Many insurers have a time limit to dispute the charges. On top of that, keep a note of every procedure or medication they have rejected as not covered by your policy. If you feel they should be covering you for more, then appeal their decision. There are many cases wherein the insurers overturn these earlier rejections.
Prepare to Negotiate
Unlike other debts like your credit card or car plan, medical bills are more “forgiving” in nature. No, they won’t totally let you off the hook, but medical facilities are more considerate in allowing you to negotiate better terms, so you can pay your bill. There are two types of deals you can make:
• Ask for a Discount
Don’t hesitate to ask the hospital or medical office for a discount. The worst thing that they can do is to say no to you. If you have a little bit of cash on hand, and you have every intention of paying swiftly, then it would be more prudent to ask for a prompt payment discount. Most hospitals and medical providers offer this as a standard for people paying a huge lump sum.
If you don’t have cash on hand and still need your bills reduced, plead your case. If you are feeling a little gutsy and you believe their billing is way out of line, then go ahead and check the rates of the other hospitals or the federal health system rates as your jump-off point for negotiation. Having these data on hand can serve as your backup to get those fees lowered.
• Work Out a Payment Plan
If you can’t pay your debt in full, seek the help of the hospital administrator and humbly ask for a payment plan. Thank them for all the work they have done to keep you alive and healthy, then explain your financial situation, telling them what you can realistically pay with your salary every month. You are not trying to weasel your way out of paying, you are just asking them to allow you to stretch out the payment schedule. Some of them will agree to longer terms of payment and/ or a zero-interest payment plan.
If you end up negotiating a plan, remember to make the medical payment a priority in your monthly budget. After covering the basics of food, shelter, utilities, and transportation, the next in line should be paid for this medical bill. Now is the time to stop spending on in-season clothes and designer coffee. Making slow but sure payments mean you get out of debt a lot faster.
Find Out If You are Eligible for Financial Aid
Asking for financial aid is not something to be embarrassed about. Most people have trouble making ends meet with their monthly paychecks, so saving up for an unforeseen medical emergency takes a backseat. Food, water, and shelter, of course, take precedence above anything else. Most hospitals do understand this, which is why they have financial assistance programs.
Take note that each hospital has its own policies and procedures in place. In some hospitals, you need to apply for Medicaid first and then be rejected by them before they consider your application. Others only need your application along with your tax returns, bank account details, and payslips. After they receive the pertinent information, they weigh to see what kind of aid to give you from partial discounts that help reduce your monthly payments to full-on “forgiveness” of medical bills that wipe all your debts clean.
It may feel taxing to fill out all those forms after literally going through a wringer as you recover; but, be patient in allotting time and effort to get this done because it keeps your case out of the hands of a collection agency and bankruptcy.
Consult with a Medical Billing Advocate
There are people who are skilled in traversing the murky world that is medical billing. It would be beneficial to ask them for help in deciphering your bills with the goal of getting them lowered. You can ask a medical caseworker, a debt negotiator, or a medical billing advocate to run through your bills with you, so you can understand them. On top of that, they are adept in spotting errors, negotiating rates, and appealing excessive charges.
Speaking to a hospital or insurance caseworker means that you not only get the much-needed help of understanding the procedures listed on your bill, but more importantly, they can refer you to charities, churches, government agencies, and other nonprofit organizations that could possibly offer you financial assistance.
Explore Alternative Forms of Funding
Many patients and their loved ones face exorbitant hospital bills because of an emergency or long term illness. After exhausting all efforts to get monetary support from all their family and friends, they turn to other people and plead their case. Thanks to the advent of technology, crowdfunding websites abound, where people can raise money to cover their hospital expenses.
Crowdfunding sites make it easy for people to hold legitimate fundraising drives, which span around the globe because of the internet’s power to bridge distance and time. After filling out site details, donors can easily make contributions via credit card or Paypal. There is no shame in asking anyone for help because even if others reject you, many others are still willing to help you out.
In addition, if your medical debts have escalated and have caused you to acquire other types of debt, you are also now having difficulty in paying, then check the American Fair Credit Council for a reputable debt-relief company. They can help reduce your principal balance and/ or the interest rates to help you pay off your debts and restore your credit.
Medical issues are a great equalizer because they can happen to just about anyone. No matter how good your insurance coverage is or how high your monthly income is, expensive medical difficulties from illnesses and accidents can afflict every single person and financially debilitate them. Often, these medical issues are beyond anyone’s control, and what’s worst, they often happen when they are least expected. Instead of sulking about these problems, clear your mind, ease your panic, and take control of what you can. Examine those bills for accuracy, then negotiate for discounts and payment plans that have long terms and low zero interest rates. If you find yourself overwhelmed by all the details, don’t drown in your misery, but instead, ask for help.