How to Negotiate a Medical Bill

Medical bills can be confusing and expensive. You may notice that one health care visit can result in multiple bills. Each bill may focus on one aspect of care, or it may just represent one of several physicians that were consulted for your care.

If you choose to make the worst possible move to handle these bills, then charge them to your credit cards. Otherwise, you may wish to negotiate lower costs right away. To see how to negotiate, you must first understand how medical bills are calculated:

First, specific line items are listed on your bill, and each line item describes a procedure or an item, such as a medication dosage. Each item has a related charge. If your bill does not include an itemized list, you should request an itemized bill so that you may review each individual charge.

Look for any outrageous fees. These may not necessarily be obvious, since some items may have a surreptitious description.

It is not unusual to see charges of $1 or more for a single aspirin pill. One New York patient sued his hospital back in 1998 for price gouging after being charged $24 for 12 Tylenol tablets. If you have many items listed, you may be able to negotiate the cost for each line item. After all, that’s exactly what insurance companies do.

If you have no insurance, you are being charged the full marked up price of each item and procedure. Insurance companies rarely pay more than 80% of the original charges. See if you can get the original costs lowered so that they are more in line with what you might be able to pay.

Once you have a newly issued bill, then you can arrange to pay it off. Once again, using a credit card or a loan for this purpose is a major mistake.

You can make payments to medical providers and pay off the amount over time at zero percent interest. You will pay nothing in finance charges and nothing will appear on your credit record.

A good rule of thumb is to send at least 2% of the amount in each month, with a minimum of $20 on smaller bills. A $3,500 bill should receive installments of at least $70. If this is out of range of what you can afford, try a smaller amount. If they accept your smaller payments, then that is a sign that you can continue to send that same amount each month until the bill is ultimately paid off.

You can even negotiate a settled amount with the biller if you have cash reserves. Understand that a lump sum payment is required if you are going to see the total amount due lowered.

There are 4 common mistakes that people tend to make with medical bills. Many fail to negotiate the price of services. Credit cards are often used to pay bills. Bills are ignored and sent to debt collectors.

Many debtors are increasingly turning to debt settlement companies to help them deal with medical bills and other debts. These companies only add substantial fees onto what you could have easily done yourself.

Find out more about how to get help with medical bills.

Kenneth Long
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Kenneth Long

President at Debtors Unite
Kenneth Long is President of Debtors Unite, Inc. as well as President and Vice Chairman for Vision Credit Education, Inc. He served as a regional coordinator for the North Carolina Saves campaign. Long co-founded the Wake EITC Coalition along with Family Resource Center of Raleigh.

Long is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. in Industrial Relations. He subsequently received his Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University. His Certificate in Financial Planning was issued by Florida State University.

Long has achieved the Accredited Credit Counselor and Accredited Financial Counselor certifications through the Association for Financial Counseling, Planning and Education. Long originally achieved the Certified Credit Counselor designation through the National Institute for Financial Education.

In addition to years of nonprofit leadership, Long has been an innovator in the field of volunteer tax return preparation programs. He assists volunteer associations and nonprofit organizations who seek to integrate credit counseling and asset-building programs with free personal income tax preparation. His approach to using free credit reports as both an incentive and a screening tool for placement into asset-building programs has been shared with members of the National Community Tax Coalition, the EITC-Carolinas Initiative of MDC, Inc. and nonprofit groups across the Carolinas.

Long assists members of our armed forces in the Carolinas, Iowa, Rhode Island, Georgia and Germany with financial readiness. Please support our Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors!

Favorite quote:

"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."

Thomas Jefferson
Kenneth Long
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