How to Proceed If Your Medical Bills Are Too Expensive

If you’ve ever sought medical attention in the U.S., it’s likely that one of the first things on your mind as a nurse draws your blood, as you lie in a hospital bed in agony, or as you attend a prenatal checkup is how much the service will cost you.

The fear of paying for medical care is quite prevalent in the United States: Americans worry more about unforeseen medical expenses than any other financial item, with 65 percent expressing being very or somewhat concerned about them, according to a 2020 survey from the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). One in ten persons in the United States has medical debt, according to another analysis from KFF, therefore this fear is not baseless.

The good news is that there are ways to lower your debt, create a manageable payment schedule, and lower your future health-care costs so you won’t have to choose between taking care of your health and wellbeing and going into debt, regardless of how much money you owe overall or the type of insurance you have, if you even have coverage.

HOW TO IMPROVE THE AFFORDABILITY OF MEDICAL CHARGES FOR HEALTH CARE YOU’VE ALREADY RECEIVED Consider these methods to reduce the overall costs or the amount you personally have to pay to the medical practitioner, institution, or lab if you have received a bill for an urgent care visit or a planned operation that was significantly more expensive than anticipated.

CHECK FOR ERRORS. Regardless of whether you have insurance or not, the very first thing you should do when you receive a medical bill in the mail is to check for errors, advises Caitlin Donovan, the senior director of public relations at the National Patient Advocate Foundation (NPAF), a non-profit organization devoted to promoting greater access to high-quality, reasonably priced healthcare for all patients. You should specifically carefully review the provided itemized list for medical services, looking for mistakes like duplicate listings and making sure that all the services mentioned are things you actually received. These errors can be expensive, and they occur more frequently than you might imagine: According to Donovan, “almost half of the medical invoices we see at NPAF have a mistake in them.”

If you have health insurance, it’s crucial to have your insurance company’s Explanation of Benefits documentation close to hand in order to look for any more errors, advises Donovan. Don’t throw these documents in the garbage just because they say “this is not a bill”; they actually contain a statement from your health insurance company outlining the medical expenses it will pay for and those you will be responsible for. (Call your insurance’s member services number so they may resubmit your Explanation of Benefits materials if you ended up throwing them out, losing them, or never receiving them. If you have a registered account, some providers will also make the documents available online.) There is a billing error present if the sum on a hospital or provider’s subsequent charge differs from that on the associated Explanation of Benefits document.

If you do discover a mistake, Donovan advises calling your medical provider (now is not the time to dispute a charge with your insurance company) and explaining that the reported amount differs from what your insurer claims you should have to pay. You ought to be able to have the wrong charges removed from your bill in that situation.

CONTRACT AND SEEK FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE. The next stage is finding out how to pay what you do owe if you’re confident that your medical bills are error-free. According to Ruth Lande , the vice president of hospital relations at RIP Medical Debt , a non-profit that works to abolish medical debt, you may be able to get your bill down to a lower amount or even not pay anything at all because of financial assistance programs, which are accessible at most hospitals and health centers that provide that provide primary and urgent medical care. Search for “financial assistance” on the hospital’s website, she advises. Then, you ought to discover details regarding who to contact and how to apply.

Lande advises applying even if you believe your income is “too high” to qualify for financial aid; just make sure to be as specific as you can in your application about why the fees are too expensive for you to pay. According to Lande, people with low incomes frequently qualify for financial aid based only on their income, but those with higher incomes may also qualify if they can demonstrate a genuine need for it. Perhaps you care for a parent or have a child with special needs, she says. Whatever your situation, please tell us about it so we can see that you are unable to pay your medical bills. According to Donovan, financial support for hospitals is still available to you even if you don’t have any medical insurance.

Financial aid programs may not be able to lower your charge, but you may still be able to save money by paying a sizeable percentage of your bill as soon as you receive it; experts say that in these situations, medical providers frequently reduce the overall amount. For instance, if the whole price is reduced to a discounted amount, you can offer to pay 25% of the charges immediately. If you don’t use financial help, you might be able to bargain for a lower monthly cost. Talk to your doctor about your alternatives if, for example, they are recommending a $300 monthly payment but you can only afford $150 per month even if it’s spread out over a longer length of time.

You should never, ever use a credit card to pay for medical expenses, advises Lande. When paying for medical expenses using a credit card, she explains, “you actually end up paying more than what you owe over time because credit card bills have high interest rates.

CHECK OUT OTHER SOURCES OF FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE. You have other options outside just your medical provider if you need financial support. According to Donovan, there may be community resources, like a nearby church or non-profit, that might offer financial assistance for medical bills or other general expenses that are equally vital to take into account. The money you would often set aside for childcare or rent, for instance, could be used to pay your medical expenditures if a nearby nonprofit organization is willing to help.

According to Donovan, there are numerous organizations that provide financial support for people with certain medical issues, such as those going through cancer treatment. Look to the NPAF’s financial assistance directory , which offers options for assistance with the costs of child care, transportation, caregiver support, and more, to identify one that might offer assistance for people in your particular circumstance. Users have the option of searching by state, medical diagnosis, and the kind of help required.

THE NON-PROFIT KAISER FAMILY FOUNDATION’S 2020 SURVEY 65 percent of Americans express extreme or moderate concern about unforeseen medical expenses.

From the charitable Kaiser Family Foundation, an a 2020 survey 0. HOW TO DROP THE PRICE OF FUTURE MEDICAL SERVICES Anyone who has medical debts, including costs from urgent care or the emergency room, has the option of doing any of the aforementioned actions. However, it’s possible that the anticipated expenses have prevented you from obtaining the care you know you need. Fortunately, there are things you can do in advance to lower the amount you’ll have to spend for treatment in the future.

FOR REGULAR INSPECTIONS. An yearly physical is covered by the great majority of health insurance policies. However, Donovan cautions that this does not necessarily imply that the visit will be cost-free; you might still be required to cover a co-pay or deductible for any necessary lab work or testing. Just be sure to use the website of your insurance provider to look for an in-network provider to save money. (However, she adds, check-up costs aren’t normally the kinds of invoices people worry out over.)

If you don’t have insurance but need or want a physical, look up community health clinics in your region on Google. Community health clinics frequently offer discounted or free services because helping the uninsured is one of their key priorities. (Incidentally, a 2020 survey 1 newborn vaccines and prenatal care.)

AS PER PROCEDURE. Perhaps you are aware that you require surgery or some other form of medical operation, but you are concerned about how much it will cost. In this situation, Lande advises submitting a financial aid application in advance. You can even submit applications to various hospitals to find out which one will be able to give you greater support, she continues. You can still apply for financial aid from several hospitals if you don’t have health insurance but still require a procedure to see which one will give you the biggest discount. Lande advises looking for doctors and hospitals that are in-network to reduce costs, much like with routine checks.

The a 2020 survey 2, a rule that prohibits unexpected invoices from out-of-network providers or emergency services without prior authorization, will also go into force on January 1, 2022, according to Donovan. This insurance should allow you to request a Good Faith Estimate, which details the cost of the treatment, prior to it taking place, according to the expert. Health care providers must offer a Good Faith Estimate to uninsured patients regardless of whether they have health insurance, according to information made public by the a 2020 survey 3. (BTW, anyone on Medicare or Medicaid are exempt from the No Surprises Act because these programs protect them from unexpected medical expenditures.)

a 2020 survey 5. Donovan advises getting the Good Faith Estimate mailed or emailed to you so you have a paper trail, which will make it easier to contest if the final charge you receive is $400 higher than the projected amount.

FOR THE BORN. The great majority of insurance policies must cover childbirth, but Donovan emphasizes that this does not imply that giving birth is always free. Deductibles and co-pays are still in effect. Research the plan you’re considering purchasing if you get your insurance from the independent market and intend to become pregnant within the following year. Not all independent insurance policies cover delivery expenses. Donovan advises examining your bills for mistakes once you receive them in the mail because you might be being overcharged.

If you are expecting a child and don’t have health insurance, the government or a nonprofit organization like Planned Parenthood may be able to provide you with free or heavily reduced prenatal care. a 2020 survey 6, a toll-free number that will connect you to your local health department, can be used to learn more about what is offered in your area. If you don’t have insurance and are concerned about the cost of childbirth, you can apply for financial aid just as you would for other medical treatments.

FOR PERIODIC MEDICAL CARE OR PHYSICAL THERAPY. See whether you can get your care at a hospital rather than a standalone clinic if you’re recovering from an injury, going through ongoing cancer treatment, or have another medical condition that requires many sessions. This is because, according to her, it will be simpler to include continuous financial support for treatment into a plan you have already developed with the hospital where you are probably receiving other care. Otherwise, you’ll need to submit a financial aid application to both the hospital and the independent clinic. FTR, getting financial aid at a hospital and a different clinic is possible, but Lande notes that it’s merely an extra step. Use your medical insurance website once more to look for in-network services.

Lande suggests contacting organizations that are particular to your diagnosis and provide financial aid for medical bills and costs associated with treatment if you have cancer or another chronic ailment. For instance, a 2020 survey 7 provides financial aid to help blood cancer patients with insurance premiums and co-pays for prescription drugs, testing, and other expenses. The most important thing, says Donovan, is to “prepare ahead as much as you can and get someone to assist you negotiate the charges.” If you have cancer or another chronic illness, you’ll probably be exhausted, and dealing with medical debt on top of how you’ll be feeling will be a lot to bear. Ask your doctor about working with a patient advocate who can assist with medical billing and insurance concerns if you don’t have a loved one who can help you manage your expenses.

Additionally, according to Donovan, if you can pay for a percentage of your regular appointments up advance, some medical professionals will give you a discount. Even if you don’t have insurance, all of the previously discussed choices still apply, such as requesting outside assistance and asking for financial aid.

FOR SERVICES IN MENTAL HEALTH. Lande advises searching for an in-network therapist on the website of your medical insurance if you want to begin therapy or resume it but are concerned about the cost. If you still aren’t able to afford counseling, look into non-profit organizations like a 2020 survey 8 and a 2020 survey 9 that offer financial assistance. If you have a diagnosis and a prescription from a physician for a certain kind of therapy, which your primary care physician another analysis 1, your insurance will pay for therapy, according to another analysis 0. Another choice is to schedule a virtual therapy appointment. According to Lande, these appointments are frequently less expensive than in-person ones, and many another analysis 2 and another analysis 3 provide these services to people without insurance. Regardless of whether you have insurance, you can research service providers who provide sliding-scale payment plans since the cost of the services you need may be lowered based on your income.

There is no getting around the high cost of healthcare in the United States. However, you shouldn’t let the possible costs deter you from getting the care you need, regardless of the reason you require medical attention.

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