Don't Hesitate to Negotiate!

By George Lincoln | May 13, 2014

Ever looked at a medical bill and thought, I wish this were negotiable?

Often times, it is! Health care bills are not usually like most other bills. When you think about your car bill for example, the agreement with the lender is very simple. If you pay your bill each month, you can keep your car. Or your credit card bill, make the payment on time and you won’t be hit with extra fees and interest penalties.

Let’s look at how a medical bill is incurred and processed. Let’s assume that you are unfortunate and are injured in a car accident. You are rushed to the hospital by ambulance where you undergo several surgeries and spend a week in the hospital. The hospital bills come to $100,000.

The hospital will first submit the bill to your insurance company. Let’s assume that your out-of-pocket cost on your insurance policy is $2,500. This is the amount you are responsible to pay. We will assume that this is your plan deductible. The insurance company will send the hospital payment of $97,500 ($100,000 minus your deductible of $2,500). The hospital will then bill you for $2,500. It is important to recognize that the hospital will generally collect from both you and the insurance company, and often times the largest payment will come from the insurance company.

What if I don’t have $2,500? This is when it is time to negotiate. Remember the car loan? Lenders are usually not flexible because they assume you should have made sure the payment was something you could afford when you bought the car. You didn’t have the luxury of planning ahead for the hospital bill. The accident was unexpected. This is not uncommon and something doctors and hospitals deal with all the time. The most important thing you can do in this situation is to simply give the hospital a call.

Let’s assume for a moment that you have a Health Savings Account with a $300 balance with a monthly deposit of $50. You could tell the hospital that you are unable to afford the $2,500 bill all at once but could afford $300 followed by $50 a month until the balance is paid.

You may be surprised at how willing the hospital is to work with you on a payment arrangement. There is absolutely no shame in working through a payment agreement with a medical provider. If you were to ask around, you would likely find that many people you interact with every day have found themselves in a similar situation. You will certainly not be the first person that the hospital will have had to work with to receive payment for services.

Remember, the hospital or doctor can not help if they don’t know the situation, so always start with a phone call and an idea of what you can afford. Then, let the negotiation begin!

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