Tips and Tricks for Negotiating With a Hospital Billing Department

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  • The best way to deal with medical bills is to face them head on -- with assistance from the billing department.
  • It's not unusual to receive a discount or partial debt forgiveness. 

Billing department employees can be a great source of information and assistance. 

Approximately 90% of Americans have health insurance. But even with insurance coverage, any family can have trouble paying medical expenses. Let's say a person suffers a severely broken leg. For such an injury, surgical treatment typically costs between $17,000 and $35,000. By the time the patient pays their copays and out-of-pocket maximum, they can be out thousands of dollars. 

There's no reason to be shy if you're having trouble covering medical debt. Every day, hospitals work with patients who cannot pay their bills and are accustomed to navigating options. These tips can help you negotiate hospital bills: 

Price shop

This suggestion only works if you're not sitting in the emergency room with a broken bone or suffering from chest pain. In an emergency, always seek treatment first and handle medical bills later. 

However, you should have time to shop for the best price if you're having a scheduled procedure, like a colonoscopy, knee replacement, or non-emergency medical tests. Paying less for a medical procedure does not necessarily mean you'll receive a lower level of care. Medical facilities are owned by various organizations, from non-profits to physician groups. Prices vary by facility. For example, a colonoscopy may be performed in a hospital or an endoscopy center, each with its own price structure. 

Once a medical professional tells you that a procedure is necessary, ask about facility options. Let them know you want to control the cost. As long as the physician has privileges at more than one facility, you'll be able to price shop. 

Contact your insurance company

Call your insurance provider to learn how much your insurance will cover. Some insurance companies offer a cost comparison tool that helps you find the best price in your area. Several online tools can be useful if your insurance company does not provide such a service. They include Fair Health Consumer and Healthcare Bluebook

Offer to pay upfront

If you can afford to pay your portion of the bill but want to score a discount, offer to pay in advance. According to Consumer Reports, 44% of hospitals provide a "prompt-pay" discount. Once you know how much your insurance company will pay, you'll have a good sense of how much you'll owe. The average discount offered to patients who pay their portion of the bill in advance is 20%. Let's say your portion will be $2,000. Paying upfront means you'll save $400.  

Request an out-and-out discount

If you can't pay upfront, ask the billing department to forgive all or part of the bill. How much they'll write off is usually associated with your ability to repay. Be honest with the billing department, explain your situation, and tell them that paying will be difficult. 

Tip: You may need to ask to speak with someone in the billing department who has the authority to offer a discount. 

Check financial assistance

Billing departments often have a list of available sources of financial assistance and are happy to provide you with more information about those resources.  

You may be asked to provide evidence that you can't afford to pay what's owed, and that's a normal part of the process. No one is trying to embarrass you. Rather, the billing department wants to ensure you're matched with the best available option. 

Take advantage of payment plans

Hospitals and other medical facilities typically offer a no-interest repayment plan. Work through your budget to determine how much you can afford to pay each month. Then, enroll in a repayment plan and pay the bill off over time. Given that you won't be required to pay interest, a payment plan beats putting the bill on a credit card or taking out a medical loan.

The last thing you want to deal with as you heal from any medical event is a hard-to-read bill. It's good to know that billing departments are pros at working people through the process. It's all about leaving enough in your bank account to take care of other needs. 

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