When it comes to Things That Cost Money, hospital stays are right up near the top. Even if you have health insurance, a hospital stay can have a tremendous impact on your bottom line.
If you have a plan that covers 80% of your stay, and you end up with a bill of $50,000, you still have to come up with $10,000. A longer stay, or a more serious condition, could still result in a larger obligation.
The good news is that most hospitals don’t expect you to pay such a large chunk at once (if at all). Read below for a few tips on dealing with hospital bills:
Review the Bill
Your first step is to review the hospital bill, and make sure that everything is correct. Billing mistakes can result in higher bills. An itemized bill can help you see what, exactly, you are being charged for. Many hospitals have “patient liaisons” who can help you understand your hospital bill. Whenever possible, see if you can get a single bill to work off of.
Then, if you have insurance, look at the billing codes used and make sure they are correct. It sounds strange, but health care providers sometimes use the wrong billing codes which prevents your insurance from paying for something that is actually covered. It can be tricky to read these codes, so use your insurance company’s website for reference or ask the patient liaison to help. After you are satisfied that the bill is correct, you can begin considering payment options.
Discounted Health Care
If you don’t have health insurance, you can ask the hospital about a discount. Some hospitals are willing to negotiate the cost of services with you if you don’t have a health plan. Find out if there is a discount, or if there is a way to reduce the overall cost. In many cases, you’ll find that you do have options — and that some hospitals are willing to work with you. (Read our post on How to Negotiate Medical Debt for more on this)
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Many hospitals offer payment plan options for patients. There might be income requirements associated with a payment plan, or you might need a high-deductible plan to qualify. Most of the time, though, there is usually a plan available for you. You might not even have to pay interest if you can pay off your debt in a relatively short period of time. Ask about what payment plans are available for someone in your situation.
Avoid High Interest Loans
In some cases, the hospital might try to get you on a “payment plan” that is really a high-interest loan. You might even be issued a credit card that holds the debt. Try to avoid these types of arrangements if you can. The interest rates are usually quite high, and you could end up repaying the loan for years to come, due to the interest. Instead, focus on solutions that come with low (or no) interest costs.
Ask about Bill Settlement
You can also attempt to settle your hospital bill. This is related to asking for a discount. In some cases, if the hospital thinks that you might not pay the whole bill, it is willing to settle for much less. It’s possible to settle for between 40% and 75% of the bill in some cases — but there’s a catch.
If you are going to settle the bill this way, you usually need to have the whole amount you are willing to pay readily available. This method works best with a lump sum payment.
Don’t Ignore Your Hospital Bills
You may not want to look at your hospital bills, but you shouldn’t ignore them. The hospital can turn the bill over to collections, and then it goes from being a hospital bill to being medical debt. Speak with the hospital about what you can afford to pay each month and show that you are in earnest about paying your bills. You might get the help you need to pay off your bills in a manageable way.
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