The thought about having to deal with a medical bill is scary. It’s mainly because overwhelmingly, most people have no idea what a service or procedure they might need is going to cost. They also have little knowledge of how much their insurance company is going to pay, if they cover the service, and then how much they’re going to be responsible for later on.
With insurance, even if the amount you’d have to pay ends up being tiny by comparison to how much you’re being charged up front, the truth is that medical bills can be higher than you expect. Sometimes they’re so high that it’s difficult to address them and still keep up with all your other bills.
However, there are many things you can do to help yourself take care of your medical bills. Just like taxes, there’s always things you can do to help yourself out, and there are people waiting to help you out. Here are 4 things you can do when you have to deal with hospital bills.
1. Make some kind of payment.
Here’s a truth most hospitals don’t want you to know. Most computer systems can’t tell the difference between a payment of $500 and a payment of $20. If you make a payment, the majority of hospital computer systems will reset themselves to the beginning and you’ll continue to get 90 days to make a payment. This isn’t every hospital mind you, and if you owe more than $10,000 it’s possible that someone will be looking at your bill, but for the most part a payment of some kind buys you time.
We’d recommend making a payment larger than $20 just to be safe. If the amount isn’t overwhelming, try making a payment high enough that you’ll pay the bill off with 6-12 months. Almost no hospitals in the country charge interest if you don’t pay the bill in full immediately, but if that happens then you can always do #2.
2. Pick up the phone and set up a payment arrangement.
Most people try to hide from bill collectors but it doesn’t work all that well. It’s better to try to work with the people at the hospital rather than waiting for your bill to go to collections and have it hit your credit report. In the past, medical bills hitting your credit report meant nothing to potential creditors, but in the last 10 years or so any hit against your report can hurt.
If you’re willing to go on a payment plan to pay off your bill, and you can afford to pay your bill off within 6-24 months (if it’s an extremely high bill), it’s betting to pick up the phone, call the facility and make a payment arrangement. Once it’s documented no one will bother you unless you miss at least two payments in a row… unless it’s a big bill, in which case if you’re in a precarious financial situation (like a lot of people were in 2020) just call them again and explain your situation.
3. Try to see if you qualify for a discount of services.
Hospitals call it charity care, and if your income isn’t all that great or you have dependents that you also have to take care of you might qualify for some kind of discount, including a full adjustment off of your entire bill. In some states you might have to apply for and be turned down for Medicaid first but all that does is takes a minor hit on your pride. Any kind of discount on your hospital bill is a good thing.
Unless you went to a private hospital, every public hospital in the nation requires hospitals to have a charity care plan. If you have other outstanding bills, they’ll group them all together based on the time frame, and you might end up getting a discount on all of your bills… sometimes a full discount depending on income. It’s never guaranteed you’ll qualify, but it’s worth taking a shot at it.
4. Ask for an itemized bill.
If all you need is a little more time, you can always ask for a copy of your full itemized bill, as well as an explanation of what the charges you received are for. Unfortunately, without a health care background much of what you’ll be told won’t help you, but you’ll buy yourself anywhere from 14 to 30 days because collection efforts have to be put on hold until you get what you’ve requested and then you automatically get 10 days to address things (that’s the same for collection agencies).
No matter what you’re worried about when it comes to hospital bills, always take care of your health needs first and worry about the bills later.