If you’ve received a medical bill recently, then what I’m about to say likely won’t come as a surprise: in the United States, we spend A LOT on healthcare. In fact, we spend more than twice as much per capita on healthcare than the average developed country does, at an average of $8,508 per person per year. (FYI: That adds up to $2.8 trillion total, or a staggering 18% of GDP.)
Actually paying those bills? That’s another story. It’s not a pretty picture: 1 in 5 Americans is contacted by bill collectors about medical debt. Medical debt accounts for $1 out of every $3 owed in collection accounts, far more than all other debt in collections.
The good news is that you can negotiate. Yes—you can negotiate your medical bills before your credit is put on its deathbed. Many hospitals, doctors and insurance providers are willing to negotiate for a reduced fee or payment plan; after all, they’d rather get something from you than nothing. Here’s how:
- Get itemized statements. Billing errors are common, and you shouldn’t have to pay for a service, device or drug that you didn’t use during your visit. Also, if hospitalization lead to infection, you need to dispute any charges made for services needed to remedy the infection.
- Know the costs. How can you expect to negotiate your bills if you don’t know how much this stuff costs?? Just like there is Kelley Blue Book for your car, there is Healthcare Blue Book or FAIR Health for researching medical treatments and medication.
- Don’t procrastinate. If you need to dispute a bill, don’t bury your head in the sand. You have about 90 days to act, so the sooner the better. Once a bill goes to collections it’s difficult to get the provider or hospital to help you, and your credit is already damaged.
- Consider payment options. If you can pay for the full amount of the bill in cash and in a timely manner, ask for that. You can also suggest a “package plan” in advance where you bundle all related services for a discount (say, for a surgery, bundling pre- and post-operation treatments into one lump sum). Ask for a “charity rate,” if that’s available, or ask to see the list of charities that most hospitals have that can help.
- Get help. If you don’t have time to dispute the charge (or maybe you’ve tried and been unsuccessful) there are advocacy groups that can help. Check out Benefits.gov for grants, loans, and other aid options that might be available to you. It’s your credit on the line; enlist all the help you can to protect it.
At the end of the day, remember that it’s your money, and you need to fight for it! Yes, your health is invaluable, but medical services do have a price tag—and it’s often far less than the one on your bill.
Test your medical knowledge along with me and Dr. Oz with our recent segment on “Good Day LA!”