Thursday, February 26, 2009

Are Medical Bills Dragging You Down?

I know first hand how medical debt can put a strangle-hold on you. In our family we've experienced: 3 appendix surgeries, 1 gall bladder surgery, 1 surgery to repair a hernia, 1 laparoscopy, 2 ear tube surgeries (the second was a replacement one with adenoid removal) and 1 foot surgery on two feet. Add to that having 4 babies, emergency room visits and the normal doctor and dental care, and you've got a lot of medical debt, even with insurance.

At first, I thought that I just had to pay the bill in full, without question. Then it became apparent, as things racked up, that it just wasn't possible for us to do that. That's when I started making calls. The first ones were for the bills my insurance was refusing to cover. In one case, they'd refused to cover an emergency apendectomy performed by a doctor out of their network. This is what I told them, "I went to a covered hospital in severe pain and feeling extremely sick. I figured I was safe since they were listed in your network. I'm sorry that I didn't think to ask them when they told me I was having emergency surgery if the doctor performing it was covered by my insurance. My appendix was about to burst." They paid the bill.

As for the bills that weren't covered by insurace, I called the doctor's billing office myself and asked if they would discount my bill, since my insurance wasn't going to cover any of it. All of them did--some of them by as much as 50%!

Another thing I was able to do was set up payment arrangements for the bills I couldn't afford to pay all at once. If they suggested an amount that I couldn't afford, I told them a lower number that I could manage. If they hesitated, I would tell them that I would love to pay more, but I had a long list of other bills, all of which I'm having to make payments on, and that was the best I could do. They all accepted that.

Also know, that as long as they are accepting your monthly payments, they aren't supposed to send you to collections because you are showing a good effort in repaying your debt. If you are sent to collections by mistake (which happened to me once) call them and tell them. If you are patient, but insistent, chances are they'll take the account back out of collections (Yes, this is possible).

One thing that helped us was that several of our bills were for the same company (Intermountain Healthcare), and when I called them about all of my bills (I had six with them at the time) they combined them all in one, with just one affordable monthly payment that was much lower than the six payments I had been making. So if you notice that any of your bills are for the same provider, or medical institution, see if they will do that same thing for you.

Another thing that some of them are able to do, but they don't advertise, is write your bill off. If you are having a rough time financially, and unable to pay your bill, explain your situation and ask them if they are able to write any of it off. Some of them are allowed to do that with a certain number of accounts each year, and it doesn't hurt your credit. Many of them also have programs for low-income families, which will help you to take care of your bills. It doesn't hurt to ask.

Make them an offer. If you do have most of the money you need to pay for a certain bill, ask if they will accept that lower amount. A lot of them will! I did this last year when I got my tax return. I called my dentist's office and asked if they would discount the bill if I would make the lowered payment in full and they did! I saved over one hundred dollars that time.

The bottom line is that most of your providers will be willing to work with you. Also, don't necessarily take the first answer from your health insurance if you think something should've been covered. Appeal it. Lots of people get their way when they do this.

I wish you all luck in lowering your medical debt this year! Let me know if this works for you, or if you have any other tips to help.