Being faced with a huge medical bill, especially one that’s unexpected, can be quite daunting. But, you have several options when it comes to paying off that debt. Here are ten ways to deal with a huge medical bill.
10. Don’t Delay or Ignore It
This is the most important thing you can do. Ignoring your bill, or any problem for that matter, isn’t going to make it go away. As a matter of fact, it’ll make things worse. You’ll end up owing more in the long run because of all the interest that will have accrued. Plus, medical providers can turn your bill over to collections, which will impact your credit score negatively. And, if you continue to ignore the payments, they can sue you. “The biggest risk of ignoring debt is that the creditor or collector will file a lawsuit against you,” Amy Loftsgordon, foreclosure, collections and debt management editor at Nolo, said in an email statement to U.S. News & World Report. “If you then also ignore the suit, a court will most likely award the creditor a default judgment, which is an automatic win.”
9. Review Your Bill for Errors
It could be that your huge medical bill has a huge mistake on it. To be absolutely certain, Jim Napoli, chief executive of Medliminal, a company that helps consumers with medical-billing concerns, recommends that you request an itemized statement. That way you can catch any errors, like unexpected hospital fees, duplicate charges, or anything that your insurer should have covered but didn’t. If that’s the case, call up your insurer and do a side-by-side comparison of your bill against your policy to make sure you are receiving full benefits. If you find any mistakes, alert your healthcare provider or insurer so they can be removed from your bill.
8. Negotiate Your Bill
Did you know that you could get a discount just by simply asking for it? Once you know how much you’ll have to pay out of pocket, you can begin to negotiate your bill. According to The Wall Street Journal, one patient, who also happens to be the director of financial planning for wealth-management firm RS Crum Inc. in Newport Beach, California, shaved 35 percent off a $3,000 bill from a surgeon who wasn’t in his insurance network. Negotiating with out-of-network doctors can be quite effective, the patient told The Wall Street Journal. He recommends starting negotiations at 30 or 35 percent.
Of course this is all BEFORE any treatment takes place. But, you can negotiate afterward, too. For example, if your procedure wasn’t covered by insurance, you can ask your doctor if you can pay the insurance rate, which is often a lot less than what you’d be expected to pay out of pocket. If your bill has already gone to collections, “know that debt collectors generally buy debts for pennies on the dollar. That gives you some good leverage to negotiate,” reported NerdWallet.
7. Apply for Financial Assistance
Did you know that nonprofit hospitals are required to provide financial assistance to qualified low-income patients who can’t repay their bill? If you qualify, your bill could be greatly reduced, or in some cases, written off entirely! In order to know if you qualify, you’ll need to apply. The application process might be rigorous–for example, you may have to provide your pay stubs, tax returns and other financial documents, and in some cases you might be required to apply for (and get rejected by) Medicaid–but it’s worth it.
TIP: Check for financial assistance programs at for-profit hospitals, too. Some of them offer these programs voluntarily.
6. Get Help from a Patient Advocate or Medical Billing Advocate
A patient or medical billing advocate can negotiate medical bills on your behalf. According to NerdWallet, they’re experts when it comes to reading medical bills and knowing what procedures typically cost. You can check with a group like Medical Billing Advocates of America to find an advocate.
-It’s best to use a patient- or medical-billing advocate if you have very high medical debt or think your medical bill might contain errors.
-Advocates usually charge fees, so make sure you know what you’ll have to pay ahead of time. According to Forbes, patient advocates charge about 20 to 30 percent of the amount they shave off your bill. Others take a flat fee, and some put a cap on their fees.
-Make sure you won’t be required to pay upfront for advocate fees.
5. Set Up a Payment Plan
According to The Wall Street Journal, financial advisers say that many healthcare providers are willing to set up a payment plan if you let them know you can’t pay off the entire balance at once. This is often the easiest way to pay off a huge medical bill. You break up your bill into several equal payments for a specified amount of time until the bill is paid off. It’s a win-win for everybody.
But, if a standard repayment plan doesn’t work for you, you might be eligible for an income-driven hardship plan. You’ll be able to break up your payments into smaller amounts and could possibly end up reducing the overall amount that you owe. NOTE: You might be required to apply for Medicaid before you can qualify for an income-driven hardship plan.
4. Do Your Research
If you decide to negotiate your bill, you can use the internet to help you find out what insurers pay in your area. You can do a quick check using websites like Healthcare Bluebook or Fair Health.
It’s also a good idea to know whether your insurer will cover your procedure AND the facility where it will be performed. Some patients are charged more for certain facilities. Also, check with your healthcare provider to make sure everyone involved in the procedure is in your insurance network. Just to be on the safe side, be sure to get your provider’s response in writing in case there are any discrepancies later on.
3. Consider Crowdfunding
According to Forbes, many patients have turned to crowdfunding to raise money to cover their medical expenses. Leading hospital magazine Becker’s Hospital Review reported in July that GoFundMe CEO Rob Solomon told MPR News that medical bills account for one-third of crowdfunding campaigns on his website.
Getting a crowdfunding campaign started is quite simple actually. You simply set up a fundraising Web page on GoFundMe, YouCaring, GiveForward or some other similar site, and donors can make contributions using PayPal or a credit card. And best of all, it’s free!
2. Get a Loan
The last thing you want to do is end up with more debt to get rid of the debt you already have. But, getting a personal loan might be your only option–especially if your healthcare provider doesn’t take payment plans. Just make sure you play it smart and shop around for the best rates, fees, and repayment terms.
Another option is to get a medical credit card. They are offered by many surgeons, dentists, eye doctors, and even veterinarians. They differ from traditional credit cards in that they can only be use to pay for medical expenses and must be used within a network of healthcare providers that accept the card. Despite this, they still come with fees and interest rates, and even though the interest is usually deferred for a specified amount of time, you still need to be careful. Just make sure you review the terms of the card before you apply.
1. File for Bankruptcy
If all else fails, you might want to consider filing for medical bankruptcy. Be warned, however, that medical bankruptcy, like most other bankruptcies, will have a negative impact on your credit. In fact, bankruptcies stay on your credit report for up to ten years. “If you need help weighing the pros and cons of trying to settle your debts versus filing for bankruptcy, it’s a good idea to talk with a bankruptcy attorney,” Loftsgordon told U.S. News & World Report.
Have you ever been faced with a huge medical bill? How did you handle it? What advice would you give to others in the same situation? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!