Debt

Most Americans With Medical Debt Are Negotiating It Down. Here’s How

Since the words “healthcare” and “crisis” have long gone together, it probably shocks no one that a new poll shows most Americans are saddled with medical bills they can’t afford to pay. But buried within the recent poll from Lending Tree is a startling revelation: Most people who asked for a discount got one.[1]

Conducted in February, the poll of 1,550 Americans between the ages of 18 and 75 revealed…

  • 60 percent have medical debt. It averages between $5,000 and $9,999.
  • More than 70 percent say it’s interfering with their financial goals. They have trouble buying a home, retiring, or even saving to have children.
  • The leading cause of debt is unpredictable medical problems. Emergency room visits top the list at nearly 40 percent. But some expected expenses are also a problem – like childbirth.

Yet the most positive numbers from these otherwise depressing statistics are these: 75 and 93.

That first number is the percentage of respondents who tried negotiating their medical debt. The second number is how often it worked, either a little or a lot. So basically, 3 in 4 made a phone call and asked to pay less – and more than 9 in 10 succeeded.

The two most successful tactics were asking “for certain items to be taken off my bill” and requesting “to go on a payment plan.” In other words, these savvy negotiators either asked to remove specific charges, or they asked for more time to pay off their bills by making monthly payments.

Of course, this raises a question: Why would, say, a hospital agree to take less when you owe a whole lot? It’s the same reason why credit card companies agree to charge you less if you enroll in a debt management plan: If you can’t afford to pay anything, they get nothing. As one financial expert told CNBC last year, “The billing people have gotten so used to negotiating that they expect it.”[2]

That said, you won’t get very far if you’re rude or demanding. So the first rule is: Be nice. Other than that, Lending Tree recommends the following…

  • “Understand what should be covered by your insurance.” Health insurance isn’t just complicated to patients. Even billing departments make mistakes. Ask for what’s called a “Summary of Benefits and Coverage.” That will spell out (hopefully in plain English) what you owe. That can include copay, coinsurance, and deductible.
  • “Get an itemized copy of your hospital bill.” If billing departments make mistakes with insurance, they make even more with their own stuff. “As many as 80 percent of medical bills contain at least one error,” says one study.[3] Review your bill for anything suspicious, and don’t be afraid to ask.
  • “See if you qualify for payment assistance programs.” Nonprofit hospitals must offer “payment assistance” for impoverished patients. These vary by state, so it might be worth looking up.

There are other tips and tricks, and you can learn them from Debt.com’s 8 Strategies for Negotiating with the Hospital Billing Department. Even if you fall in the 7 percent who didn’t succeed in negotiating any price break, it cost you nothing to try.

Source: Debt.com / Image by yanalya from freepik.com

Joseph Tanner

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