How To

How to Deal With Big Medical Bills

Medical debt is an increasing problem in America. More than 25% of people under 65 report having some medical debt (an all-time high). Even people with insurance report having problems paying medical bills.  So what do you do when you just don’t have the money to pay-off your recent hospital stay?

Before you panic, try these steps:

Check things out: A shocking number of medical bills contain errors (estimates suggest anywhere from 30%  to 80% of bills). If something doesn’t look right, it’s worth investigating. Some errors are easy to spot, such as staying in the hospital two nights but being billed for three. Or, you may have been billed twice for the same thing. But most errors are not obvious; for complex situations, you might consider hiring a medical billing expert to review your bills. But for single bills, these services can be expensive. You may first want to see what consumer assistance your state’s Department of Insurance offers – they may offer or be able to direct you to free or low cost help.

Call your provider: If you do find an error in the bill, call the doctor or hospital and explain what is wrong. Ask them to resubmit the bill to your insurance company.

Call your insurance plan: If your provider is unable to help, or if the mistake belongs to the insurance company, call your plan and ask them to make the correction. Be sure to record the name of the person you talked to, what they promise to do, and how to get a hold of them again. If the plan says they cannot help you and you still believe the bill is incorrect, file a formal complaint (or grievance) with the plan. If this still does not change your bill, you can file an appeal.

Negotiate with your provider: If the bill is in fact correct, talk to the doctor or hospital about discounts, financial assistance policies, or payment plans.  If you want to negotiate something specific over your bill, it may help to ask your provider for an itemized bill so you can see individual charges.

Find a foundation: If you have a chronic or rare disease, there may be a foundation or financial assistance program specifically designed to help with yourmedical bills. Depending on your particulars (such as age, health condition, or insurance status) these foundations can help with co-pays, co-insurance, drug costs, and more – sometimes up to a year back. Be aware of the funding timelines; for example, some give out assistance by the calendar year, so you may have better luck earlier in the year. Some foundations to try:

Cancer Care Co-Payment Assistance Foundation: www.cancercarecopay.org

Caring Voices Coalition: www.caringvoice.org

Chronic Disease Fund: www.cdfund.org

Healthwell Foundation: www.healthwellfoundation.org

National Organization for Rare Disorders: www.rarediseases.org

Partnership for Prescription Assistance: www.pparx.org

Patient Access Network Foundation: www.panfoundation.org

Patient Advocate Foundation:  www.copays.org

Patient Services Incorporated: www.patientservicesinc.org

Get help from friends and family: If you still can’t get the money together, then try getting the word out.  Fundraising platforms like GiveForward make it easy to create and publicize campaigns to help a friend or family member who needs money for medical expenses.

Tomer Shoval is the CEO and Co-Founder of Simplee, a free online personal health care expense management tool. Connect with him on twitterfacebook or email.