Unpaid medical bills are a huge problem in the United States. The National Center for Health Statistics found that one in four American families are struggling to pay their medical bills, with 10 percent of families claiming they cannot pay their unpaid medical bills at all.
Facing your unpaid medical bills head on is the first step in resolving the issue. Like any other bill you may receive, disregarding unpaid medical bills will not make the problem go away. In fact, ignoring your medical bills can mean bigger problems in the near future.
Every time there is an unpaid medical bill, you add further risk to you and your family. For example, you could be refused for treatment, service and assistance by doctors and health providers if your bills remain unpaid.
Also, having unpaid medial bills for several months can signal concerns to your account. Doctors and other health professionals will be forced to send your account to a collection agency.
Being forced to deal with debt collectors, which can significantly reduce your ability to negotiate your medical bills in the future and give you a low credit score.
The impact of unpaid medical bills can also affect your ability to pay for basic living expenses like rent and food and can even force your family to take on further debt through the use of credit cards and loans.
All these negative impacts can be easily avoided by finding proper solutions to the root cause of the problem. Below are five ways to help you resolve unpaid medical bills. As your circumstance can be unique, it is best to review the options and speak to the most appropriate person for further assistance.
5 Steps To Resolve Unpaid Medical Bills
1. Speaking With Your Doctor, Hospital And Health Team
If you are avoiding paying your medical bills due to financial problems and medical debt, the best thing you can do is speak with your medical provider, doctor, social worker and/or the hospital.
Often if you are not paying your medical bills on time and do not let your doctor’s office know your circumstances, the billing department may think you are ignoring the bill.
Being open about your current situation is the best way to move forward in finding tangible solutions to resolve your unpaid medical bills. It will also let the billing department know that you are taking responsibility of the current problem, which will help you be able to get help from
One of the most common options that doctors and health providers can provide you is implementing a payment plan. A payment plan can help you receive treatment without having to pay for the treatment in full beforehand. It can also mean allowance to pay your unpaid medical bills in regular installments so the cost is more manageable.
Before you work out with your health provider a payment plan, it is also a good idea to review your budget and living expenses. Understanding your income and expenses can give you a rough estimate of what you can contribute on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. This will help avoid you from over committing to an installment plan that you are unable to honor.
As long as you are able to continue making the payments consistently and until the debt is finalized, you will be able to continue to receive treatment and minimize any further risk to you and your family. This will help you avoid the process of going through debt collection agency in the future and avoid any use of credit cards, loans and other methods that can have adverse affects on your family.
2. Ask For Assistance
While dealing with health insurance providers to get your unpaid medical bills paid for, you can also look into assistance programs that may be available for you to resolve the matter more quickly.
More often than not, there are assistance programs that can help you cover the cost of unpaid medical bills. It is all about finding out what’s available and what is applicable to you.
Non-profit organizations for example, are a great place to start when you are trying to learn about assistance programs for you. Non-profit organizations, particularly if you have a particular disease or illness, can provide plenty of information and support. They may be able to refer you to a program or even help with apply for financial assistance.
Although there are requirements and restrictions for most assistance programs, you should be able to find both non-government and government support that can help you minimize the cost of any unpaid medical bills.
3. Learn The Art Of Negotiation
Negotiation plays a big role in resolving unpaid medical bills. It is a strategy that many Americans have used in order to reduce the cost of their medical bills. A recent published study in Smart Money found that 66 percent of Americans who negotiated medical bills with their doctors were able to reduce their medical bill. It was also found that 70 percent of individuals successfully haggled their way to reduce their medical bills with their hospitals. In fact, some families were able to save $4500 to $5000, which was over 45 percent of the overall bill. This means that medical providers are often willing to reduce a portion of your medical bill.
What’s important to know about your medical bills is that not all items can be negotiable. For example, according to Angie Merak, “doctors do have legal stipulations, meaning they cannot waive co-pays.” For families this means going around the problem by investigating other areas and feed that could be negotiable, like fees for a doctor’s time and office fees.
Doing the research of the fair market price of your treatment, medication or service you have received is a great way to negotiate down the medical bill. If you can prove that your health provider has over charged you for treatment, there is a high chance of getting a better deal in terms of your medical bills. This according to Christina LaMontagne, from NerdWallet Health, can be up to 25 percent of the overall cost of the treatment in question.
Pleading your case with as much evidence as possible is the first step in reducing the cost of your medical bills. Documentation such as proof of low income status, quotes from other providers, household expenses (particularly if you are a single parent or have children/dependents) and proof if you have exhausted your own personal savings as a means to pay off your medical debt. Giving documentation that validates your request can make a huge difference.
Another negotiation strategy could be paying a lump sum towards your medical bills upfront. Often health providers will be willing to accept the lump sum and waiver any remaining costs. Unlike payment plan options, this option gives the medical provider the payment immediately, and also provides protection against any unforeseen problems in the future where you may not be able to pay the rest of the bill.
4. Review Every Medical Bill
Medical bills can be overwhelming to go through. However, taking the time to review your medical bills before paying is a useful tip to avoid any headaches in the future.
Always review every medical bill you receive straight away. This will ensure that you have a fresh memory of what you are actually being billed for to check if all the information is correct.
Knowing every detail on every bill can make a world of a difference. This will help you avoid the most common mistakes such as making assumptions of how much you owe, paying for medical costs that you did not receive and not resolving errors found on your medical bill.
In reviewing your unpaid medical bills, ensure that you check for accuracy. Watch out of spelling mistakes and if the room rates for hospital stays are correct. Check if all the treatments and costs are in fact administered and accounted for. It would also be a good idea to add up the cost to make sure the total is correct. Make sure there are no duplicates or double billing in costs. This is a common mistake that can be found on medical bills.
If there is something you are not sure about or do not understand, make sure that you speak to the billing department or medical provider. Often you can also ask for an itemized bill. This will give you a break down of all the costs and how the medical bill added up. From the itemized bill, you can then see exactly where your money is going towards before paying it. There may also be a misunderstanding or an error on the billing department or medical provider, which can be easily resolved.
Also, it can be much more time-consuming and difficult to resolve billing disputes when you have already paid for them on a credit card or loan installment. While you resolve this issue, which make take days or weeks, you will be paying interest on an error which could of been avoided. This can place added stress on your family and put even a greater financial burden on you.
5. Get Support From Family And Friends
Support can come in many forms. For the most part, your friends and family play a vital role in your life already. As such, your social networks can help you overcome any unpaid medical bills whilst providing greater social and emotional support.
Being afraid or hesitant about reaching for support from friends and family is a common concern. However, families should feel confident in asking for help from their loved ones during a time of need. More often than not, your social networks will be there to support you through the good times and the bad. Friends and family will appreicate your honesty and openness as you are sharing a very personal issue you are dealing with.
Family and friends are more than happy to lend a hand, particularly when there is a medical emergency that requires immediate or sudden attention. You may also experience friends and family asking how they can help or wanting to donate to help cover your unpaid medical bills.
One way that many families in the United States have been able to pay their medical bills is through online and offline fundraising efforts in order to cover unpaid medical bills. These can include running social events, auctions or simply by setting up an online fundraiser.
By putting yourself out there, you can potentially be helping your family out of medical debt, but also receive much needed funds to cover the cost of medical treatment.
Setting up a medical crowdfunding or fundraising page can help you reach out to loved ones to seek financial aid.
Each fundraiser will be able to share their story and share this link to their networks. This gives opportunity for supporters to read and connect to your story, without feeling put on the spot. Being online, you are able to reach family and friends in a less intrusive way.
Supporters then can choose to donate an amount of their choosing. As for you, being the fundraiser, you will be able to avoid having to retell your story to each individual and instead be able to easily manage donations online. You will as a result, be able to acknowledge donations and supporters’ efforts just as easily as setting up a fundraiser. By doing so, you will be able to put more focus on your loved one who is ill rather than worrying about your finances.
Family and friends can offer support in helping with day to day activities as well. For example, you may be able to get assistance from family members and friends to take care of your child while you are at the hospital receiving treatment. They may offer to cook a meal and keep you company by sharing laughs with you. Although these forms of support can be non-monetary, it can help remove some of the burden off your shoulders.
1) A Little Haggling Could Mean Big Savings on Med Bills: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=4545067
2) How to Negotiate Medical Expenses before and after you Receive a Bill: http://www.clearpointcreditcounselingsolutions.org/how-to-negotiate-medical-expenses-before-and-after-you-receive-a-bill/
3) What to Do When You Can’t Pay Medical Bills: http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2014/05/25/what-to-do-when-you-cant-pay-medical-bills
4) 15 tips for paying high medical bills: http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/medical-bill-payment-tips-1266.php
5) Don’t Pay that Total. How to Negotiate Your Medical Bills: http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2014/02/11/dont-pay-that-total-how-to-negotiate-your-medical-bills/
More Unpaid Medical Bills Financial Assistance Resources
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