Americans are paying more for their medical bills than ever before as health care costs continue to rise by large percentages. You’ve probably experienced this yourself! With these cost increases, it is easy to wind up with unexpected medical bills. In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently published a study finding that medical debt is the most common type of past-due bill.
So what should you do if you have an unexpected medical bill that you can’t pay right away? Shop around? Question the charges? Negotiate? A recent Wall Street Journal article says yes, do all of these, and do them as soon as possible.
If your health care need is not an emergency, it may be useful to do some legwork and shop around prior to the service. Many out-of-network providers or providers who won’t take insurance may be open to negotiating, even offering a discount for cash payment.
If you have recently received a bill, pay attention to what was charged. You should even go as far as requesting an itemized statement and reviewing it for accuracy. Errors are common in medical billing––especially with duplication of charges––so knowledge is crucial. Many errors revolve around medical providers filing claims with the insurance networks. The last thing you want to have happen is a surprise bill. Do your homework! Consumerssunion.org is a good resource to understand your protections.
You can also try to negotiate, but do this promptly upon receipt of a bill. Your provider may be more willing to work with you if you acknowledge the bill immediately. Try starting the negotiation by asking for a 30% reduction to begin with and negotiate from there.
It is not a good idea to ignore a bill and deal with it later. In as little as 30 days from sending you the bill, some providers report these bills to the credit bureaus as delinquent––a tactic to prod customers into paying. Fortunately, beginning this September, all three major credit-reporting firms—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—will have a six month waiting period before they report these “delinquent” medical debts on a credit report. As a best practice, work out a payment plan as soon as you can because medical debt on your credit report can adversely impact your credit score.
The bottom line––when dealing with an unexpected medical bill––tackle it head-on, know what your insurance does and does not cover, and advocate for yourself. Life’s a journey––navigate it wisely!