What To Do If You Get A Medical Bill That You Can’t Afford

What To Do If You Get A Medical Bill That You Can’t Afford
Photo by Eduardo Soares / Unsplash

Amethyst Storey

If you receive a medical bill from any provider here are some steps you can take toward solving the problem.

Make sure the charges are accurate

One reason why medical care is so expensive? The healthcare system is a mess and billing mistakes are all too commonplace.

You should receive an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) from your insurance company.

An EOB includes the following:

  • Medical services rendered and the name of the healthcare provider
  • Amount billed
  • Discounts applied
  • Amount paid by your insurance provider
  • Amount not covered
  • The outstanding amount to be paid by the patient
  • If applicable, any amounts paid via spending accounts (such as a Health Reimbursement Account, or HRA)

If the portion that it says you are responsible for on the Explanation of Benefits, does not match the bill, do not pay that bill. You need to call the provider’s billing department and have them correct your billing statement. You should also ask them to send you a new, corrected, itemized bill.

Make sure that the services that were billed to the insurance company are correct. If any errors were made, you need to inform the doctor’s office so that a corrected claim can be sent to your insurance company. Do not ever pay a bill until you are sure that the services billed are correct.

Don’t ignore your bills

If you can’t pay a bill, you can call the providers office and try to negotiate a payment plan.

Ignoring your bills can lead to being sent to collections. It can affect your credit score as well, if collections accounts end up being reported.

Work out an interest-free payment plan

If you really can’t afford your medical bills, you can try to negotiate a payment plan with your provider. Tell them what you can afford to pay each month and make sure to get the agreement in writing.

Ask for a prompt pay discount

Some hospitals and doctor’s offices will give you a one-time discount for paying your bill in one lump sum within 30 days.

Some experts suggest asking for even more of a discount. You can get some ammunition for your argument by using the Healthcare Blue Book to see what other nearby hospitals or doctors charge for the type of care you received. If you were charged significantly more, you can argue you deserve a price reduction.

However, if you can’t afford to pay anything at all, there are steps that you can look into.

Apply for financial assistance

Some doctor’s offices will have you fill out financial hardship paperwork and most hospitals have a financial assistance program - but you have to ask. They don’t tell people about those programs unless they are asked.

That being said: A provider can’t waive deductibles, coinsurances or copays. It goes against their contract with the insurance companies and it is the amount that the patient agreed to be responsible for when they joined their insurance company.

Instead, you can negotiate a payment plan to cover these financial obligations.

Apply for a loan

Getting a loan should be a last resort, but it is a possibility. There is often an entity called Care Credit which is an option for those who need help with the cost of healthcare expenses. Not every provider offers this, but some do or may have something similar.

Deal with collection agencies

If the worst has happened, and your bills have gone to a collections agency, you will need to deal with it. Luckily, internal collections agencies (those at the hospital or doctor’s office) are more willing to negotiate payment plans and hold off sending information to credit bureaus than third-party debt collectors.