The pandemic has been a financial hardship for many reasons. Even if you contracted Covid and fortunately recovered, some have been left with high medical bills. And because Covid is turning out to be a long-haul disease for some people, the bills might just continue to pile up. Even the smallest trip to the doctor or hospital can leave you thousands of dollars in debt. Here are the best ways to negotiate medical debt.
First Things First
Get insured, if you can. According to the Census Bureau, more than 29 million people in America didn’t have insurance in 2019—before the pandemic. Since the pandemic, millions more have lost jobs and become uninsured. The good news is that the Biden Administration wants more access to health insurance. By potentially lowering the Medicare age to 60, 10 million more people might be enrolled. As for Medicaid, there’s a proposal to offer coverage through the ACA Marketplace. Go to healthcare.gov to see whether you qualify. You can search your local area for help too, so that navigating a government website is less daunting.
Re-read Your Bill
This may seem obvious, but many of us presume that the bill we’ve been sent is accurate. That’s not always the case! If you’re confused about something, call the billing department at your doctor’s office or the hospital and have someone walk you through the charges. And ask for an itemized bill, instead of a final charge. Listen to your instinct. If something seems amiss, it probably is. You may even need to call your insurance agency directly, so you’re clear on what was covered and what wasn’t.
Make a Plan
Doctors offices and other medical providers will often offer a payment plan. This is your best bet for paying off a more manageable sum. If you receive a monthly payment instead of one large chunk, you can use this to your advantage by putting away small amounts of money every week. Think of this as something similar to paying off student loan debt. You don’t have to do it all at once. If your doctor’s office doesn’t offer a payment plan up front, ask for one. Even if they don’t formally offer one to patients, chances are they’ll be willing to work with you.
Advocate For Yourself
Sometimes this means hiring someone to do the dirty work. You can hire a medical advocate, for sometimes as little as $30 an hour, and they’ll help you find errors. This is sort of like hiring an accountant to do your taxes. You might spend some money up front, but you’ll save money down the road. Visits websites such as claims.org to get started. There are also local nonprofits, such as California Medical Billing Advocates, that can help.
Don’t Press Ignore
The worst thing to do is to not pay your bills. Your credit score will take a hit. In fact, some offices will offer incentives if you pay on time. Ask if you get 10% off services if you do. If you need assistance, such as a loan, go to Credible and see whether you qualify. There are ways to get the money if you need and paying on time will save you money in the long run.
Almost a third of working Americans have medical debt and almost that much owe bills of $10,000. Medical bills can seem daunting, which is probably why in a survey of people with medical debt, 54% said they defaulted. But negotiating medical debt doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes it’s as simple as picking up the phone. If you really need help, look to third-party options like advocates or loans.
A version of this article was originally published on Forbes.