It is well known that there wide price discrepancies in what different doctors and hospitals charge for the same service or treatment. Most people don’t consider asking the price for treatment and never question their bill. However, it is not only possible to reduce the amount of medical bills, it’s the smart thing to do, and many people can avoid losing their life savings or going deep into debt because of exorbitant medical bills.
Most people think nothing of negotiating the cost of a new car or for items at a farmer’s market, but when it comes to medical bills, they don’t even think of negotiating. The fact is, most hospitals and doctors will be responsive to questions about cost and offer less expensive alternatives or completely avoid unnecessary tests. If a physician calls a hospital and tells them a patient is struggling with medical costs and asks for help, most hospitals will help.
The first step to cutting medical costs is to know the real cost of the treatment. Consumers can learn this online at websites such as www.healthcarebluebook.com, and http://www.newchoicehealth.com/. In the past, patients had no idea of the real costs of treatments and were often charged unfair prices. Another possibility is to ask for the Medicare rates for patients 65 years and older. The hospital may not agree to these rates that are set by the federal health system, but these rates are a good place to begin negotiations.
Patients should not wait to start negotiations. Waiting six to nine months after the bills are due will make it very difficult to get positive results. The right time to negotiate is within 90 days of incurring the bill. Once the bill goes to a collection agency, there may not be anything the hospital or doctor can do to reduce it.
The patient should keep excellent records starting with the very first bill. Once a bill is received, it may have a summarized amount. The patient should call the billing department to make sure they get an itemized bill that is accurate. If the patient asks for an itemized bill, the hospital or doctor has to give it. This should be done for all bills including from labs, ambulance services and examinations. Hospital bills often contain errors and overcharges, so the patient needs to make sure they received the treatment for which they are being billed. For example, if they are discharged from the hospital in the morning, they should not be charged for a full day room rate. Also, there shouldn’t be items such as sheets, gowns, supplies and gloves on the bill. These things are part of normal business for a hospital and should be included in the room rate.
Another negotiating technique that often works is to ask for help. Most hospitals or clinics will help arrange a fair payment plan if they are asked. In some cases, they force the patient to apply for Medicaid and be rejected before they will provide assistance. The patient needs to make it known that they need help. They can also ask for cash discounts, especially when they are knowledgeable about the real costs of treatment or about the lower prices at other hospitals in the locality. Cash is a huge motivator for hospitals, and if a patient is willing to pay their whole bill at once, they can often negotiate large discounts.
Along with negotiating with hospitals and doctors, it’s recommended to challenge the decisions of health insurance providers. They may refuse to pay for a procedure or drug that they claim isn’t covered in the policy. If the patient believes the insurer should be paying more, they should not hesitate to appeal the decision. Insurance carriers often overturn their earlier rejections.
For people who feel they are being grossly overcharged by their doctor or hospital but don’t have the energy, ability or knowledge to challenge their bills, a professional can help. A professional medical-billing advocate will charge a fee that is a percentage of the amount they save the patient. This is usually about 30 percent. Patients should not employ an advocate that charges an up-front fee. In some cases, advocates will put a cap on the amount of their fee no matter how much they are able to save the patient.
There are ways the common consumer can negotiate their medical bills and not become one of the sad stories of bankruptcy or crushing debt. By acting quickly, itemizing their bills and checking that they actually receive the treatment, knowing the fair price for their treatment and asking for help, consumers can keep their medical expenses within their financial means. However, it is very important for the patient to fulfil any promise they make. If the doctor or hospital agrees to low monthly payments, the consumer should make these payments in full and on time.
By Andre Bradley