If you think medical costs are becoming more expensive, you’re right. Studies show that patient medical expenses – including deductibles and out-of-pocket maximum payments – have gone up almost 30% in recent years.1 So even if you have insurance, you could still get stuck with a bill you weren’t expecting or can’t afford.
If you’re looking for relief, here are some suggestions to get help with medical bills:
First, make sure all of the charges are correct
Billing errors happen. Whether you’re charged for services you didn’t receive or you’ve been double-charged, it’s up to you to find and fix mistakes on your medical bills. If you do find something, call your provider and your insurer and ask for an explanation. It’s important to understand everything on your bill before submitting a payment.
Negotiate the costs
Not all providers are willing to budge. However, some may allow you to negotiate your medical expenses if you contact them before your due date. First, research the fair market price for the care you received. Companies like FAIR Health collect data from billions of health care claims and make it easy to compare what you got charged to what others paid. Once you have the information you need, contact the billing department and try to negotiate a lower payment. If you don’t succeed, at least you tried. But if you do succeed, your time and effort will be worth it!
Request a payment plan
Paying the entire bill, or even a portion of it, may not be an option. As a sign of good faith and willingness to satisfy your medical debt, ask if you can pay the bill over time. Some providers do offer financial assistance programs, and the amount you pay each month may be negotiable. Before you enter a payment plan agreement, be sure to understand if there are any fees or interest charges and get all payment terms in writing.
Tap into your emergency fund
Rainy day fund. “Oh no” fund. Emergency funds have a lot of names but exist for one reason — to pay for unexpected expenses. If you have one in place, some medical bills might qualify as a reason to make a withdrawal. If you don’t already have this backup system in place, start an emergency fund to help with future expenses.
Consider a personal loan
Personal loans let you pay off your medical debt now and repay the balance over time. Although you’ll likely repay the debt with interest, it could be a better alternative to running up your credit card balances. One reason is the interest rate for most personal loans stays the same until the balance is paid off. Some credit cards, however, have variable interest rates or have interest rates that fluctuate due to missed payments or a drop in credit score.2 Plus, if you continue to charge purchases on the same credit card as your medical bills, your minimum payment could increase and make it harder to budget.3
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Research government programs
There are a variety of government programs that help pay for medical bills and other expenses. You can check USA.gov for the full list of help with medical bills, but here are some quick links:
Medicaid and CHIP (Health Care for Children) – Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides help with paying medical costs for children of families who cannot afford health insurance or don't get it through their work.
Social Security and Medicare – Local Social Security Administration (SSA) offices help those on Social Security and Medicare find help. People over 65, people with disabilities under 65, and people with end-stage kidney disease are eligible for Medicare.
Medicaid for Adults – Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that helps with medical expenses for some people with limited income.
Take the pain out of paying medical bills
Getting stuck with a large medical bill can be frustrating. After all, you might not know what’s coming in advance. If you do get hit with medical debt beyond your budget, remember there are options available to possibly lower the costs and pay it off in a way that’s comfortable to you.
1 MedData. “2019 Medical Billing Statistics.” MedData.com. https://www.meddata.com/blog/2017/10/26/medical-billing-statistics/ (accessed April 4, 2019).
2 Konsko, Lindsay. “Why Does My Credit Card Minimum Payment Keep Rising?”. Nerdwallet.com. https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-cards/credit-card-minimum-payment-keep-rising (accessed December 19, 2017).
3 Konsko, Lindsay. “Why Does My Credit Card Minimum Payment Keep Rising?”. Nerdwallet.com.