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How To Get Ahead of Medical Bills

The United States is the most expensive place to get sick or treat an illness, and a recent study has determined that roughly 20% of Americans with health insurance have a difficult time paying their medical bills once they have received treatment. Why? Over the last two decades, health insurance companies and employers providing group health insurance have shifted more and more cost to the consumer to balance the ever­-rising expense of medical care. Insurance deductibles have continued to increase, and physician networks insurance companies work with for preferred pricing have narrowed. All of these factors lead to one end result ­ health care consumers have to pay more out of pocket, and can fall into serious debt.

Providing for everyday family needs is one the most crucial components those with medical debt struggle with. Skimping on groceries, delaying a family vacation or taking on a second job are real life instances that occur when individuals are feeling crushed under the weight of medical bills. But there are actions anyone can do to help reduce their current debt, and save on future medical expenses in the future.

Invest in Supplemental Health Insurance

For as little as $1 a day, supplemental health insurance helps protect families from unexpected accidents and critical illnesses. The cash benefit can be used for medical bills not covered by an insurance deductible, the mortgage, childcare or loss of insurance. With low-cost supplemental health insurance, families can better manage their cash flow.

Keep A Medical Journal

If you have a recurring medical problem, a chronic condition, or multiple children that all have different doctor’s appointments, keeping a medical journal is vital. Each time you visit a doctor, specialist or medical facility, document the date, the physician you saw, the reason for seeking medical care and any diagnosis information provided. When the insurance Explanation of Benefits (EOB) arrives (this is not a medical bill, but just an explanation of services received), cross reference the date, physician’s name, and what you were seen for in your journal to ensure you are being billed accurately. If you see an extra charge that does not correlate with your medical journal, contact your health insurance company for further explanation. Also keep your EOBs on file so you can double check that the explanation of services matches the final bill when it arrives.

Save Billing Records

Medical bills can look like Morse code. There is no industry standard on how to identify procedures and services, so one hospital can use one coding system, and another something else. Descriptions for services can range from “Office Visit” to “Miscellaneous.”

One study found that over 90% of medical bills contain errors, so it’s extremely important to look at every bill you receive. When your medical bill arrives, refer back to your EOB to see if the charges and services listed by date match. Individuals who receive ongoing treatment for similar services also need to watch for duplicate billing of services. Pay attention to dates of service in your medical journal compared to your bills. If services do not add up, contact your health insurance customer service department.

Ask For a Discount

Many providers will offer “prompt pay” discounts if you can pay your balance in full before the due date. For smaller bills, this can save you 5%­10% each time you receive services (although this does not apply to copays). When you receive a bill that you can pay off, contact the provider or insurance company to see if they will offer you a discount. It never hurts to ask!

Get a Payment Plan Before Credit Card Debt

If your medical bills are beyond what you can afford out of pocket, inquire about a payment plan. Many providers will offer low-interest or no­-interest extensions on medical debt to save them money on “past due” and “collection” notices. Typically if you contact the financial office and state, “I cannot pay my balance in full, but I want to work with you. Can I make monthly payments until the balance is paid off?” ­ they will try to work with you. This can keep you from incurring extra charges due to high credit card interest rates.

Use Health Care Advocacy Programs

Membership programs like HealthValues offer consumers opportunities to save on multiple health care expenses, so the total cost of medical bills can be reduced overall. For a monthly subscription fee, consumers get access to free doctor consultations, preferred pricing on medical X-­rays and surgeries, expert medical bill negotiation assistance, a personal health care concierge to help schedule appointments, plus supplemental health insurance to help pay for certain medical expenses high deductible health plan do not cover, like accidents or a critical illness.

Medical debt can become overwhelming quickly. But by following a few simple tactics, you can get in control of your health care expenses, and advocate for the best outcome.