One in six Americans has past-due health care bills on their credit report, amounting to a total of $81 billion. That’s according to a July 2018 report from Health Affairs. The researchers noted that 53% of those bill were less than $600 each.
If you know the best ways to negotiate your medical bills, you can substantially lower your out-of-pocket costs for health care and hopefully stay out of medical debt!
Here’s how to negotiate your medical bills and save money
The key to negotiating your medical bills is to be proactive. You’re much more likely to find the savings you want if you do your homework upfront before a procedure, rather than after you’ve already received the services.
What to do before services are rendered
If you’re looking to save money on medical bills, consider being a cash payer and shopping around for the lowest price on non-emergency medical procedures before you need them.
That involves calling the billing offices of a variety of providers and asking what the cash price is in your area, then trying to negotiate a cash discount.
The reality is that cash is king. Medical billing offices are already fatigued with all the insurance companies. If you do your homework and you shop services, providers, and facilities, you can make a big impact on what kind of financial burden you’ll face down the road.
Remember, the key is to do this shopping around before you need the service. That way, you have the most negotiating power!
Surprisingly, another area where it might make sense to pay be a cash payer is with your prescriptions.
One couple who recently needed a spare a 90-day supply of telmisartan, which is a blood pressure medication, found the cash price was around $40 at their local Costco pharmacy. Had they run that same prescription through insurance, it would have cost them $285!
GoodRx is a great tool that lets you find out the cash price for medications in your area, allowing you to make the best choice for your wallet and your health.
It’s much harder, though not impossible, to have any negotiating power after the service is rendered…
What to do if you’ve already received the service
If you’re already dealing with a large medical bill in your life and you need help to hopefully whittle it down, there are a few options for you.
Consider hiring a claims assistance professional or medical billing advocate who will look over your bill and vet it for errors. These professionals are well-versed in medical billing and insurance procedures. They’ll go over your bill line item by line item and look for errors that could potentially save you big bucks.
Medical billing advocates are available in more than half of all states in the country. Visit Claims.org or Medliminal.com to locate one near you. Expect to pay between $30 and $50 per hour for their services.
Anyone who is uninsured and paying retail for expensive medical services should go this route!
Good news: Medical debt now has less of an impact on your credit score
If you try the tactics above and still can’t get the amount you owe down, there’s still some good news for you, too.
Beginning in late 2017, the three main credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — agreed to provide a 180-day cooling off period before any medical debt goes onto your credit report.
Giving consumers the benefit of the doubt for a full 180 days will hopefully provide enough time to figure out who’s responsible for paying the bill, be it you or your insurance company. And it should give you time to get some money together if it turns out you’re on the hook!
This is just one of the new provisions that went into effect under the terms of the National Credit Assistance Plan (NCAP). The NCAP also requires the bureaus to be diligent about removing medical debts paid by insurers after the 180th day.
That’s why it’s important to check your credit reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. You want to be sure those old medical debts are coming off as they should and not fouling up your credit!
Those new rules about how medical debt gets reported, combined with other tweaks made by the credit-scoring industry, are already starting to pay off for credit-challenged Americans.
Because of the new rules, there was an 11-point increase in average credit score during the first quarter of 2018, according to The New York Federal Reserve Bank.
And as you probably already know, your credit score helps determine what kind of interest rates you’ll pay when you need to borrow money, plays a role in insurance pricing and more.