Medical care can be expensive, especially if you have had a major illness or injury. Those without insurance coverage often struggle with medical debt. Even those who have insurance may receive a medical bill that they simply cannot afford. What should you do if you are facing a high medical bill? Here are some steps to take.
Check for Billing Errors
When you receive a medical bill, check for potential errors. You may have to ask the hospital or doctor’s office for an itemized statement. Go through each item in the bill and compare it to the services that you actually received (you can request medical records to help you make this comparison).
If you notice a mistake, contact the healthcare provider immediately to dispute the inaccurate medical bill. Keep in mind that errors are quite common. In fact, one study from Medliminal found mistakes in 99% of 2018 medical bills. By disputing any errors in your bill, such as double charging, you will lower the total amount.
Verify Insurance Benefits
Sometimes, your insurance provider is the one who made a mistake. Contact your insurance company and ask them to walk you through your benefits and the amounts that were paid to your healthcare provider. Also obtain a copy of your insurance benefits. If you find that there is something listed on your benefits that was not covered on your bill, point it out to your insurance provider right away.
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Appeal Your Insurance Coverage
If you are struggling with a higher-than-expected bill because your insurance company has denied coverage for a procedure, you can submit an appeal to reverse that decision. The first step is usually an internal appeal where you ask the insurance company to review its decision. If they still deny coverage, you have the right to file an external appeal. This means an independent third-party reviews the claim and decides whether your insurance company must pay it.
Work Out a Payment Plan
Most healthcare providers work with you. If you tell them you need a payment plan, they should offer a monthly payment you can afford. Don’t be afraid to negotiate if they ask for a monthly amount that is too high for your budget. And be sure to specifically ask for an interest-free payment plan; most hospitals offer this.
Ask About Discounts
Providers are often willing to give discounts, but you have to ask. They will usually take a percentage off of your bill if you pay all at once. This is called a cash discount or prompt pay discount. Usually, you can get it if you pay within 30 days.
Apply for Financial Assistance
Many healthcare providers offer financial assistance programs. You must qualify for the program by meeting certain income and other financial requirements, but it’s worth applying to see if you qualify.
Can Medical Bills Be Forgiven?
You can have your entire medical debt forgiven in certain circumstances. Those with a disability or other difficulty that prevents them from working can usually get medical bills forgiven. You will need to present documentation such as tax returns to prove that you cannot pay your debt. There are also foundations that help people with medical costs, like the Patient Access Network Foundation. There are even nonprofits that forgive medical debt, such as RIP Medical Debt.
What Happens if You Can’t Pay Your Medical Bills?
If you don’t pay your medical bills, they will eventually be turned over to a debt collection agency. This will hurt your credit score and may make it harder to negotiate. If you truly can’t pay your bills, you can get your debt discharged by declaring bankruptcy. However, this will do even more damage to your credit.
Consider Ongoing Medical Expenses
Even after you’ve paid off a high medical bill, you still need to consider what expenses you will have moving forward. If your bill was caused by an injury or illness, you will likely have follow-up doctor’s appointments and possibly new medications to take. It’s important to start looking for other ways to save on healthcare costs.
For those struggling to pay routine prescription costs, ScriptSave WellRx can help. We offer a free prescription discount program that has saved some patients up to 80% on their medications. To see how much you can save, search for your prescriptions on WellRx.com.