Receiving a bill can feel devastating, but experts agree that you shouldn’t panic or pay immediately. “The biggest mistake people make is looking at their bill and paying automatically,” says Claire McAndrew, Director of Campaigns and Partnerships. family americaa health care advocacy group tells SELF.
A good first step is to call your hospital’s billing department and make sure you have the appropriate insurance on file. Medical technology is notoriously outdated, so the high numbers you see may be erroneous. “There are many places where things could have gone wrong,” Kay says. “When you showed them your insurance card, they may have entered one thing wrong. That first mistake could cause problems later.”
4. Call your insurance company to familiarize yourself with the claim.
Unless you opt out, your health insurance company will email or mail you an explanation of benefits (EOB) after you visit your doctor or hospital to explain exactly what you are covered and what is not covered. Parsing the invoice and her EOB is a pain. “I teach health care finance at Rutgers University, and I bring in real bills to show students how complicated it can be,” Kaye says.
For simplicity, ask your insurance company representative to explain to you what the numbers and codes on your invoice and EOB mean. This ensures that they cover everything that is supposed to and that you are not mistakenly billed for services you did not receive.
If you have Medicaid, you should be protected from sticker shock by the federal protections listed above. State Medicaid Office Check your invoice for accuracy.
5. Ask the hospital for a prompt salary discount or payment plan.
If your medical bills look accurate but you still can’t pay the high bill, ask the hospital for an immediate payment discount. Not all providers offer this, but most do, says Kay, adding that discounts are often 10-20%.
If you are not in a position to pay your bills in full, please contact your hospital’s billing department for payment plans. This could be a multi-year plan, and experts say it could cost as little as $5 a month. Hospitals want people to pay a little bit at a time instead of ignoring bills entirely, Kaye says.
Even if you agree to a fixed amount each month, it’s always worth asking if you’re entitled to additional discounts on your bill, says Ryden-Benjamin. This is especially important if you do not have insurance. Many hospitals have charity care programs that can significantly reduce (or eliminate) bills if income is low enough or circumstances are extreme.
6. File a dispute with your insurance company.
If you can’t reach an agreement with your hospital on a payment plan, or if you feel your insurance should cover more, you can challenge your insurance company. Each insurance company handles disputes differently, but you can often find instructions for the dispute process on the company’s website. Click here for information on Etna.