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7 Ways to Get Out of Medical Debt

Statistics reveal that a whopping 72 million Americans are dealing with medical debt, making up 41% of the US population. Being in such a situation can be overwhelming and uncomfortable. Have you accumulated some medical debts and are wondering how to deal with them? Or have you foregone treatment, doctor appointments, or other services mainly because you have no way to pay? Here are some practical ways to free yourself from such debt. 

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Review your bills

Just as it’s important to go over your credit card report in case there are errors, it’s equally critical to gather all your medical bills and review them. As you do this, always be on the lookout for three main elements:

  • Unauthorized charges
  • Duplicate or double-billing
  • Errors in calculations

Additionally, as you go through the pile of billings, it’s essential to check your insurance explanation of benefits (EOB) forms. The primary reason for doing this is to be sure your insurance company played its coverage role. Aside from that, crosscheck every payment detail while ensuring that your medical provider has confirmed the payments. Should you have any questions regarding a payment mix-up, it’ll be in your best interest to contact the medical provider or insurance company right away.

According to Freedom Debt Relief (FDR), 7-90% of medical bills contain some degree of inaccuracies, making it imperative to be eagle-eyed in this regard. The question now is, how do these errors happen on medical bills? Sometimes, it’s a clear case of negligence, misreporting, or over-calculating bills. This is why FDR co-President, Sean Fox, believes that the final check lies with you. He advises people not to go beyond three working days after receiving their EOBs, especially upon detecting errors.

Consider getting legal medical debt assistance

Sometimes, you may not be in a position to wade through the tons of appeals and information. If you find yourself in a situation like that, you should contact a legal entity such as the Leinart Law Firm for a free consultation. With a knowledgeable attorney acting as your medical bill advocate, you’ll have timely help to work through your medical debts. Sometimes, your legal representative will advise that you file for medical bankruptcy.

According to The Balance’s survey on medical bankruptcy, 62.1% of such cases in America were caused by medical issues. The United States continues to record high cases simply because the American healthcare system is expensive. Besides, not many people have the financial muscle to pay pricey medical bills.

Apart from the attorney, you’ll find it worthwhile to enlist expert help from a medical billing advocate. This can be a nurse, healthcare administrator, or insurance agent. Due to their experience on the job, they have a trained eye to help you do the following:

  • Identify errors
  • Appeal exorbitant charges
  • Negotiate bills

As you work with an external advocate, though, be aware that they’ll possibly charge about 30% of your bill’s reduced amount. Unless these are individuals you know personally and desire to help you out of friendship or due to kinship, their services aren’t for free.

Furthermore, your non-legal advocate may refer you to the American Fair Credit Council (AFCC) if your current medical debt resulted in incurring other debts. The AFCC is poised to help you receive help from a debt relief agency. This helps to reduce your principal balance as it finds ways to restore your credit.

Learn to advocate for yourself

The Medical Billing Advocates of America has on its website the need to adopt an “aggressive discount” strategy in the initial stages. For example, if you offered to pay off 40% of the medical bill right away, ask the health provider if they’d be willing to write off the rest. The logic behind this strategy is to make your provider see how much they’d stand to lose if they pursued you for months or even years to pay up the full amount.

Another tactic to employ is to ask for about a 20 – 25% discount if you made a significant down payment instantly. Indeed, it sounds more like a guerrilla business negotiation, but it works. For a more toned-down approach, you have the right to ask if they’d charge you the rate Medicare pays. On the other hand, if everything else fails, ask for a zero-interest payment plan. If they agree to this, ensure the terms and conditions are put on paper for future records.

Look for financial assistance or charity care programs

Usually, the right step to take is to seek help from a professional when you have no other legal alternatives. Unfortunately, many Americans sink deeper into medical debts simply because they failed to ask relevant questions. As a patient or person seeking medical care, you have the right to ask your medical providers if they have a financial assistance policy. In some places, this is called a charity care program.

According to the National Consumer Law Centre attorney, Jenifer Bosco, non-profit hospitals have a legal obligation to provide these financial assistance policies. More importantly, these programs are usually for persons within a low-income bracket and, upon all background checks, can’t foot their medical bills.

Therefore, if you qualify for a charity care program, your medical provider may let go of some or erase your debt altogether. In the meantime, all over the United States, there are local organizations purposely set up all over the United States  to provide help for low-income individuals with varying levels of medical debt. However, if you apply for a charity care program and are refused, it’s most likely because your income is slightly higher than the income bracket the policy works with.

Negotiate your medical costs or bills

First and foremost, you must know that there’s a timeline for negotiating your medical care cost. It must be done BEFORE treatment begins, although you can request for a bill adjustment immediately after. It’s also worth knowing that your doctor or the hospital you visited may use maximum rates to calculate your medical bill in most cases. Because this tends to happen often, you’ll be on the safer side by prompting either one (doctor or hospital) to use insurance company rates. Better yet, you can alert them on the fact that Medicare would take up the bill.

If in doubt about who to talk to, ask to speak with the medical billing manager. In actual fact, that’s the individual authorized to lower the cost of medical bills. Avoid waiting until when your bill is already in collections. If you wait too long until your medical bill is delinquent, that alone can damage your credit score.

How can you justify lower charges? First of all, compare the cost of your bill to other medical providers in the same area. Can you conclude that it’s an average or fair billing? If you prefer to do this check online, do check the New Choice Health website. Another place to help you get a fair idea of what you’re to pay is the Healthcare Bluebook. However, if you have health insurance, their website is also a great place to help you estimate medical procedure costs, among others.

Don’t fall for the chargemaster rate

Another name this is known by is the sticker price. Several American hospitals use the sticker price or the chargemaster rate when negotiating with health insurance companies. This rate is always high and you could describe it as a hospital marketing gimmick employed only when the ‘sharks’ (health insurers) are involved.

For example, a hospital may peg their chargemaster rate at $8,000 for an ECG test. But in the background with the health insurer, the agreement will work around half the price ($4,000). Supposing you’re uninsured, the hospital might bill you at the exorbitant chargemaster rate. Therefore, when you ask for the amount they’ll bill an insurance company, it’ll be in your best interest to go with that.

Avoid putting your medical debt on credit cards

Putting your medical debt on your credit cards could cause even more irreparable financial disaster for you. Paying your medical bills by credit card transfers the debt away from the medical provider. This then transforms into a high-end debt with little or no alternatives to clear or reduce them. Believe it or not, there are some protections you benefit from as a medical debtor owing the health provider. However, when you shift the cost to your credit card, you’re on your own.

It’ll then be classified as a credit card debt alone. In other words, the credit card factor is interpreted as a paid service to the hospital. At this point, you will have no negotiating power, be able to appeal for lower bills or a flexible payment plan.

The consequences of accumulating medical debt and being unable to pay can be pretty dire and have long-term effects. Hopefully, with the above-mentioned points, you’ll know which elements to look out for. Most importantly, you’ll have some tried and tested ways to help you wriggle out of medical debt.

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