Patient Advocates: The Coach in Your Corner for Taking On the Health-Care System

You can get help when you need to make sure the medical teams in charge of your care have your best interests in mind.

May 11, 2014 at 4:30PM

The doctor is recommending tests that don't seem necessary, the hospital charged you $20 for that Tylenol you took during your stay -- and what can you do about it? Whether in the hospital or opening your bill afterward, it's easy to feel helpless against the enormous health-care industry. Luckily, there are passionate professionals whose job it is to help patients navigate the health-care jungle. If you're feeling overwhelmed or mistrustful, there may be an advocate who can help you.

What are patient and medical billing advocates?
Most health-care advocates come in one of two forms: a patient advocate or a medical billing advocate. A patient advocate is there during your hospital stay or doctor's visit to make sure medical professionals are acting in your best interest. This could be a spouse or family member who knows enough about health care to ask the right questions, or a professional who provides this service. Sometimes patient advocates are hospital staffers, and sometimes they are nurses or social workers or chaplains.

Medical billing advocates are available, after you've received care, as experts to go over your medical charges and make sure they are fair. They can help you appeal to the hospital to lower your overall costs and may also help to get more charges covered by your insurance company. In some cases, billing advocates find thousands of dollars in savings.

What services do patient and medical billing advocates provide?
A patient advocate is usually by your side to ask your doctors and other caregivers the right questions, take down information, and make sure your wishes are carried out. It's like having a spokesperson or a campaigner for you and your health. The best patient advocates are trustworthy, knowledgeable about health care, assertive, and good verbal communicators.

A billing advocate will start, naturally, with your bill, where they will look for errors such as duplicate charges, uncommonly high charges, and charges for tests that were cancelled. After that, this advocate can help negotiate with caregivers and your insurer to help you further lower your costs.

Why should I hire a patient or medical billing advocate?
If you have a serious surgery planned, or are in poor health and visit doctors frequently, you may want a patient advocate in your corner. This might be a spouse or trusted friend, an acquaintance who knows the industry, or a hired professional. If you are in good health but find yourself in a medical emergency and would like someone in your corner, ask the hospital staff if they have any advocates in-house. You can also hire an independent patient advocate who has only your interest in mind.

On the other hand, if you have already received care and are now facing unmanageable medical costs, you may want to hire a billing advocate. This type of advocate will normally charge for his or her services but may be able to save you thousands. Medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S., and patients often have no idea what they'll be hit with financially until the services have already been rendered.

How much do patient and medical billing advocates cost?
Patient advocates are often members of your family, nonprofit organizations, or clergy and may not charge you for their services. In most cases, however, there will be a fee associated with patient advocates, and it usually depends on the amount of time they spend with you and your doctor. Advocates on the hospital staff may have their charges built into your bill. For this reason, costs may vary from as little as $75 for a single doctor's visit to a few thousand dollars for an extended hospital stay.

Medical billing advocates usually have more concrete charges. Some charge hourly, at a rate of $100 to $200. Others charge as a percentage of savings -- usually 25% to 35% of the price they got your total charges reduced by, but some charge as little as 15% of savings.

Where can I find a patient or medical billing advocate?
If you think you could use an expert in your corner, start with NerdWallet's Ask An Advisor forum. While it's an excellent place to find expert advice on your medical bills or health-care questions, you can also use the tool to get in contact with any of our advisors about becoming your personal health-care advocate.

You can also find patient and medical billing advocates through the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants or the Alliance of Claims Assistance Professionals.

Take advantage of this little-known tax "loophole"
Recent tax increases have affected nearly every American taxpayer. But with the right planning, you can take steps to take control of your taxes and potentially even lower your tax bill. In our brand-new special report "The IRS Is Daring You to Make This Investment Now!," you'll learn about the simple strategy to take advantage of a little-known IRS rule. Don't miss out on advice that could help you cut taxes for decades to come. Click here to learn more.

Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at www.fool.com/podcasts.

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to www.fool.com/podcasts, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.

 


Compare Brokers