These days, a stay in the hospital can easily run us into the ground, financially speaking. A single hospital bill can hit five figures relatively easily. Once you add up the cost of a bed, an MRI, a million other things, etc., it gets pricey. According to the Federal Reserve, the credit scores of two in five Americans were negatively affected by medical bills. One in six credit reports contains a medical debt. Having said that, sometimes we receive a bill in the mail and it is literally (literally!) Ka-ba-jillion dollars more than you expected it to be. But you still have to deal with it. You can’t just go move to Alaska and live in the woods, hunting bears for dinner. So, here are some ways to tackle these situations where you find yourself with a medical bill that you cannot afford to pay.
Read the bill 17 times
OK, maybe not that many times. But, sometimes pencil-pushers make mistakes. The difference between some pencil pushers and medical pencil pushers is that a mistake with a medical pencil pusher can be the difference between a manageable and an unpayable medical bill. Billing mistakes do happen! Don’t let them charge you for all those costly head injury/concussion meds if you only had ankle surgery.
Don’t run away. You’re not badass enough to survive in the wild, wild West. Oh yeah, and the wild, wild West doesn’t exist anymore. Like aforementioned, unless you plan on living in the woods, you are going to have to face these bills eventually. Phone calls on phone calls on phone calls is what you have to expect if you ignore the bill. Plus your credit score will take a hefty hit.
Credit cards are tempting, but…
We get it. You just want to get the debt collectors off of your back. It is really tempting to just pay with a credit card. But that, my friend, is a slippery slope. This could lead to a never-ending cycle of debt due to high interest payments, and that sucks, as we all already know. Of course, this will also have a negative effect on your credit score. Unlike other payments, medical payments can be negotiated. Usually, it is just the amount of time given to make the payment, but sometimes even the amount of the payment can be negotiated. As long as you pay something, and set up a payment plan, you can get by making smaller payments for a while.
Prompt pay discounts
If you have just almost enough to pay the bill, you might want to consider a prompt pay discount. Some hospital and chill doctors will offer a one-time discount for paying your bill in one lump sum within 30 days. Upwards of 10 percent can be taken off. Some experts suggest asking for even more of a discount. You can get some ammunition for your argument by using the Healthcare Bluebook to see what other nearby hospitals or doctors charge for the type of care you received. If you were charged significantly more, you can argue you deserve a price reduction. If you are literally broke, and can’t pay a cent however…
Apply for financial assistance
A lot of people need FA, so don’t feel bad. That’s the first step here: not feeling bad. Feeling bad only debilitates you. So just accept you’re in this position, and move onto the next step, which is asking the hospital what sort of financial assistance plans they offer. At some, you have to apply for Medicaid first (under 26 and earn less than $15,856? You are definitely eligible). Other hospitals keep things a little bit more simple, although the paperwork is up to the ceiling. You just gotta deal with it.
Here’s a list of 35 other medical assistance programs that can help you get your medical bills covered.
Collection agencies. Ugh.
If your bills have been sent to a collection agency, well then you should just go live in the woods. Actually wait, no, because you still have recourse. That does suck. But here’s what you can do:
- Hopefully, it is an internal collection agency and not a third-party debt collector who is just foaming at the mouth to send information to the credit bureau and ruin you.
- Know what collectors can do and what they cannot do. Know your rights! First things first. They are not legally allowed to call you at unreasonable hours. Those who do so are breaking the law (before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. are no-gos).
They also can’t:
- Call you at work if you’ve asked them not to
- Threaten to sue you without significant reason
- Tell you that you have committed a crime by not paying
- Threaten to tell others about your debt (except for your lawyer or spouse)
Debt collectors are not allowed to threaten you. Talking to them can quickly start to feel like you are on the wrong side of a mafioso’s attitude. But don’t get intimidated, these seeming renegades are still bound by the law. They can’t threaten you. For this reason, make sure you are recording any phone conversations that you have with debt collectors in case you need proof of illegal behavior. Once you have come to a civil agreement on a payment plan, make sure to get that plan in writing so nobody can make a claim that you aren’t paying on-time. And all payments that you make should also be in writing so that you can prove that you paid what you said that you paid. Don’t ever pay any medical bill in cash.
You can offer to pay a little something if you can’t pay in full immediately. Debt collectors, despite their job description, will usually be amenable to this. Be firm and offer to pay what you can and when you can — within the bounds of reason, of course. Expect a few counteroffers, as it is their jobs. But stick to your guns.
It is very unfortunate to have to deal with stressful and exorbitant medical bills after having a likely stressful and traumatic injury that necessitated your need to enter a hospital in the first place, but that is the world we live in. So learning how to deal with those ginormous bills if and when they arrive is an indispensable skill set to have in your pocket.
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