If you have astronomical medical bills because of the coronavirus pandemic or another health emergency, you might think there’s no choice but to pay thousands of dollars for your treatment. Lucky for you, though, there is hope.
Here’s some advice on how to bring down the numbers on your medical bills and tips on how to cover the remaining costs in five easy steps.
1. Review your bills.
You’ll receive an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) from your insurance company along with the actual bill, which tells you how much you’re responsible for paying. Hold onto these documents and review them carefully.
When you receive the EOB provided by your insurance company it will explain your insurance benefits as it pertains to a bill. It will usually include the following information:
- Amount Billed By Provider (this refers to the amount the doctor or hospital charged)
- Plan Discounts (this refers to a discount negotiated by your insurance company)
- Amount paid by the insurance company
- The amount you owe the provider
Most explanations of benefits will also include information about your deductible, copay, and coinsurance. If a procedure or treatment is not covered, then your EOB will include a short explanation. If your statement includes charges for COVID-19 testing or related expenses, like co-payments and deductibles, your insurance should cover the entire amount, as per the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Once you review your bills carefully, make sure the EOB and the medical bill correspond with each other. If there is a discrepancy between the two documents, then it may be a billing error.
If you suspect an error, then ask for an itemized bill. This will include a breakdown of all costs charged to you for services and/or inpatient stays.
If you’re being billed for a hospital stay, review the charges carefully to be sure you’re not getting billed for a treatment you haven’t actually received. According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, an overwhelming nine in 10 hospital bills contain errors.
2. Review your insurance coverage.
Familiarize yourself with your health insurance policy before disputing any charges. Most health insurance providers will provide all members with a detailed manual that outlines exactly which treatments and charges are covered and which are not. Here, you can refer back to the EOB to see if the insurance paid for all procedures it claims to cover.
3. Dispute all errors.
If your insurance billed you incorrectly or did not cover a procedure or treatment, call a representative about the charge. Be sure to have your bill in front of you when you make the call. Take notes on the time of your call, the contents of the conversation, and the name of the representatives you speak to in case you need them for future reference.
If the error is with your doctor’s office, then ask to speak to a representative of the billing office and then calmly explain your position. Here, too, keep a careful record of the conversation for future reference.
In both cases, be prepared to make multiple phone calls until you reach a party that can effect change. It’s also a good idea to follow up with a written request to challenge a charge.
4. Negotiate the remaining bills.
Negotiate with the billing office at your doctor’s practice for a lower price on the treatments and procedures rendered. You may want to do this in person by scheduling an appointment with the billing office. Bring all your bills and other supportive documents, such as receipts from the pharmacy and information from your insurance provider. If you believe a charge for a procedure has been unreasonably inflated, it’s a good idea to research the going rate of coverage through sites like HealthcareBluebook.com.
When at the meeting, explain that you are having difficulty with your bill and that you’re looking for a way to lower the costs. Here are some open-ended questions to guide your negotiations:
- What discounts do you offer for financial hardship?
- Can you waive any fees?
- I know many hospitals have charity relief plans for patients having difficulty meeting their payments. Can you tell me about yours?
- Can you charge me what Medicare would pay for this service?
- If I pay this off sooner, then will the charges be lower?
With luck, you’ll walk away with a discounted bill.
5. Create a payment plan or seek funding for bills.
Once you have your final bill amount, you can choose to pay it now or work on creating a payment plan. Spreading a large bill over several months or years will make it manageable.
If you’d rather not have this huge bill hanging over your head for a while, or your doctor’s office insists on immediate payment, consider other options. One way to pay off your bill is by taking out a personal loan. This will provide you with the funds you need to pay your bill immediately, with a payback plan offering easy terms and manageable monthly payments. Take advantage of low interest rates by opening a Home Equity Loan. This will allow you to tap into your home’s equity. You can then use the cash to pay your bills.
Step 6. Going forward
In order to avoid an unexpectedly large medical bill in the future, consider switching your insurance plan to one that provides more robust coverage and less expensive co-pays and deductibles. Your premiums will likely increase, but the change may be financially worthwhile if you have ongoing medical expenses.
Another long-term option to consider is setting up a Health Savings Account (HSA) at United Texas Credit Union. Funds contributed to this account are tax-deductible, and can be withdrawn to cover qualified medical expenses.
Your Turn: How do you pay for large medical bills? Share your ideas with us in the comments.
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