How to Negotiate Your Medical Bills

medical debt

You can negotiate car prices, mattress prices, and even your taxes, but did you know that you can negotiate your medical bills? Instead of panicking next time you get a medical bill, follow these steps to lower your payment and get out of medical debt sooner.

1. Move quickly.
While it can be tempting to simply hide your bills in a drawer instead of facing the amount owed, that gets you nowhere. Plus, you risk having your bill handed over to collections, which can take a big toll on your credit score. The faster you move, the more negotiating power you’ll have. After all, medical providers want their money ASAP.

2. Check for errors.
A truly staggering number of medical bills contain errors (some reports put that number at 80 percent!) so make sure you aren’t overpaying. Scour your bills for duplicate charges, extra charges for tests that didn’t end up happening, quantity inaccuracies, or even errors in your information. Something as simple as a typo might affect your insurance payout, so be vigilant.

3. Arm yourself with negotiating ammo.
Research, research, research. It will help to have the costs of your procedures at other hospitals at your disposal (not unlike negotiating a car). You can find pricing on sites like Clear Health Costs, Healthcare Blue Book, and FAIR Health. Or if you’re over 65, try comparing your costs to Medicare rates as a guide.

4. Ask for what you want.
Similar to a tax offer in compromise, hospitals have an interest in getting your money promptly instead of letting the bill go unpaid. Thus, they are frequently willing to accept a lower lump payment on your bill, provided you can pay promptly. Simply tell your hospital’s billing department, “I can’t pay this amount, but I can pay X today. Can we compromise?” You might be able to negotiate up to a 50 percent discount — but you don’t stand a chance unless you ask.

5. Hire an advocate.
If you can’t get anywhere with negotiating, simply don’t want to negotiate, or don’t understand your bill, it might be time to call in a professional. Medical bill advocates will check bills for errors, negotiate on your behalf, and wade through the insurance red tape.

The cost of medical billing advocates varies: It can range from $100 to $200 per hour, or some advocates will charge 15 to 35 percent of the amount they saved you.

6. Set up an installment plan.
If you are unable to pay your entire bill in one lump sum, it should be relatively painless to set up an installment plan with the hospital’s billing department. Make sure you find out whether your hospital’s plan has an interest rate tacked on — some do and some don’t. Even if you’re paying off your bill over a period of several months, it’s much better than letting the bills pile up and risk having your debt sold into collections.

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