4 Simple Tips for Negotiating and Lowering Your Medical Bills Today
Twenty years ago, my dad received a phone call no child wants to answer.
“Son, your father has fallen. I can’t get him up,” my grandmother said.
Right before he fell, my grandfather started sweating and shaking. My grandmother tried to get him to the car, but he couldn’t make it.
Instead of calling an ambulance, my grandmother called my dad. She was worried about money… Would their health insurance cover an ambulance ride to the emergency room?
Unfortunately, situations like this are all too common.
Even for the insured, unexpected medical bills can add up. And paying them off can derail your retirement savings.
When it comes to emergency medical care, you can’t afford to delay decision-making like my grandmother did. Get the medical help you need now, and deal with the bills later.
Keep Your Wallet Closed
According to a recent New England Journal of Medicine study, 22% of patients who went to an ER at an in-network hospital still received a bill from an out-of-network doctor.
To the surprise of many, receiving care from out-of-network doctors and lab workers, and radiology or ambulatory services contracted by the in-network hospital, could leave you on the hook for a big bill after you’ve recovered.
If you get a surprise bill, don’t pay it immediately. Take these steps to double-check each item to ensure it is a valid charge…
For one thing, you’ll want to watch for errors and overcharges. They happen more often than you think.
In fact, some estimate that 80% of medical bills contain errors.
You may be able to slash hundreds or maybe even thousands off your medical bill simply by identifying and correcting billing inaccuracies.
Common medical errors include…
- Upcoding: When a medical billing code is changed to represent a more costly diagnosis or treatment. It’s like charging for a name-brand drug when a generic one was used.
- Duplicate Billing: When one procedure is billed multiple times. It’s highly unlikely you had your appendix removed twice.
- Cancelled Tests and Procedures: When you’re charged for a test or procedure that was ordered and then cancelled.
- Inaccurate Quantity: When you’re charged for more of a drug or test than was administered. Sometimes an extra “0” may have been accidentally added to a number.
- Operating Room and Anesthesia Time: These charges are typically billed in 15-minute increments. Be sure to check your records to find out how long you were in surgery, and make sure it matches the time billed.
If you find one or more billing mistake, contact the provider’s medical billing department immediately, and have them send you a corrected bill.
Then you’ll be ready to start negotiating.
Know the Going Rate
Everything, especially medical bills, is negotiable.
The secret to negotiating prices is knowing the minimum the provider is willing to accept.
In most cases, Medicare and Medicaid pay the lowest prices for treatments and services. A LOT lower than what you will see on your bill.
So your next step is to find out the amount Medicare typically pays for the types of care you received.
Luckily, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services makes it easy.
You can search for payment data by the provider’s or organization’s name, city and state. And once you find your provider, you can scroll through the list of treatments and services to find the ones for which you were billed.
It’ll look something like this…
The data includes what the provider charged, what Medicare allowed the provider to charge and how much Medicare actually paid on average for each procedure in 2014.
Medicare usually pays a small fraction of each charge appearing on your bill. So even though the database information is a couple years old, it’s a good place to start negotiating with the billing department.
And even if you can’t knock 75% to 80% off your bill, you should be able to negotiate a significant reduction. Just don’t forget to get everything in writing.
Keep Your Health and Preserve Your Cash
Emergency medical care is expensive. But in a crisis, it’s worth it.
Don’t make the same mistake my grandmother did to save a few bucks. Luckily, my grandfather eventually made it to the ER, where he received the proper care. But this happy ending could have easily gone the other way, and the delay might have cost my grandfather his life.
When your health is rapidly deteriorating, you and your family don’t have time to find out if every doctor working to save your life is in-network. So my advice is don’t.
Mitigate the financial damage of a healthcare crisis later… when the bills start coming in. With these steps and resources, you’ll have a plan.
Besides, what good is saving a few dollars on emergency care if you don’t live long enough to spend them?