Insurance can cover many things, but it won't always prevent you from receiving a costly medical bill. But you do have one option: negotiating your bill to a lower price. A lot of people don’t consider that, and it’s a difficult thing to tackle if you don’t know how to handle it. Jen Wieczner, reporter for the Wall Street Journal and MarketWatch, joined us to talk about how to haggle down your health care bills.
“When you think about haggling and negotiating, maybe you’re thinking more of a flea market," Wieczner says. "There’s actually a lot of leeway to negotiate with the hospital and agree on a price that’s more affordable for the consumer."
What's the first step if you're handed a bill you can't pay?
"A good place to start is going back to the hospital and saying, 'I can’t pay this.' If you were going through insurance, sometimes the price charged to insurance is different than the price charged to consumers." Wieczner says. If you ask to pay upfront, you might be given a lower price. In a situation where the bill is $2,000, you might be able to get the price to $500 if you’re willing to pay cash upfront.
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But not all bills are manageable by a one-time cash payment. When it comes to more expensive bills, Wieczner suggests asking for a payment plan, "if you can work out a plan, where you can pay it with little interest or no interest, that might be more doable."
Another tip: make sure the bill you received matches up with the care you received. "There's about 69,000 medical billing codes. When there’s that many out there, there’s a good chance they’re going to mess up sometime."
If you’re still struggling to pay a medical bill, there are groups and companies that will help bring health care costs down for a fee, either a commission or percentage of how much they save from your bill, or an upfront cost. "You might say, 'I’m already dealing with this bill, how am I going to afford to pay services like that?’ But some [consumer advocates] will work on commission if you really can’t afford it. They’re usually pretty affordable."
But don’t ignore the bill. Wieczner notes the bill would then go to creditors, and could eventually lead to more fees and get more expensive as time goes on.