This is a guest post from Suzanne Cramer, Social Media Specialist for Care One.I have had my fair share of medical bills over the years.
Not because I didn’t have health insurance, but due to the rising cost of healthcare.
I always thought that having insurance meant you were “covered” should you need to see a doctor, a specialist, take medications or heaven forbid have surgery.
In my early twenties I never really took the time to look at my employee sponsored health insurance policy that I was paying for each month. After all, I was young and invincible right?
Wrong! When I hit twenty-eight I seemed to fall apart, two major surgeries in three years. The first set me back over $10k out of pocket, the next 12k. Before I even had the first medical emergency paid for I was hit with another.
But there’s another group of people that don’t have health insurance. If I struggled with having coverage how will these people deal with medical bills racked up over time?
Had I known then what I know now I would have had more emergency savings, healthcare options, and the where with all to negotiate with the medical providers.
So here’s the low down on government assistance, negotiating with your creditors and what happens if you don’t pay up.
Affordable Healthcare for All?
On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. The law put in place health insurance reforms that have been coming out over the past two years with more to come before 2014.
What does this mean for you?
- Clear options you can understand and take advantage of.
- The ability to get the most out of the insurance you do have.
- If you are a senior, Medicare and access to preventive services and prescription drug discounts.
- If you are a business owner, new tax credits and programs for affordable health insurance plans.
This new law was put in effect to protect you. To ensure you are making the most of it, fully understand your consumer rights and how the law applies to you and your family.
Medicaid & CHIP
As a single mom of a child with special needs (My son is a Type 1 Diabetic) I take full advantage of the Medicaid program. An average month of diabetic supplies and doctors visits was costing me around $600 out of pocket.
I was drowning fast in medical bills and needed to see if there was help available for my son’s life-long expenses. Enter Medicaid.
Medicaid. After doing my homework I found that he was eligible for Medicaid based on his special needs. Depending on your income or a special exception like my son’s, you and your family may qualify for free or low-cost health insurance coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program(CHIP).
CHIP. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides health coverage if your income is too high to qualify for Medicaid, but you can’t afford private coverage.
I am thankful to be receiving Medicaid for my son and share as often as I can how this government program can help. Visit Medicaid.gov to see if you qualify.
After receiving several consecutive medical bills I couldn’t afford I discovered a little known secret many people know nothing about—medical bills are negotiable. As I mentioned earlier I have always had health insurance, the problem is that it never seems to cover expenses 100%.
Here are a few tips for scoring a discount:
You won’t know until you try. My most recent experience with negotiation of a medical bill was just this year. I had to have an MRI of my back to diagnose yet another ruptured disc. My bill (after insurance) came to $875. I was able to negotiate payment in full with the hospital for $475. Not bad, that was almost 50% off my bill.
The importance of emergency savings or an (HSA) Health Savings Account. In order to obtain the above agreement I had to pay this amount in full. So while getting a discount of 50% is awesome, you have to be prepared to pay in full. That’s where having some emergency savings or money in an HSA becomes important.
Ask for a discount prior to being treated. If you know the procedure will be expensive discuss your payment options with the billing department beforehand. If you lack adequate insurance or don’t have insurance they may be sympathetic and agree to give you a discount.
Ask for a payment plan. If you are not in a position to negotiate or pay the bill in full ask for an interest free, payment plan. In most cases medical providers will agree to accept monthly payments until the bill is paid in full. Be sure not to agree to an arrangement you can’t afford. If you miss payments they may turn the account over to collections where additional fees and interest may be added.
Just because you arrange for a payment plan doesn’t mean you still can’t negotiate down the road. At anytime you can write a letter stating, “I’ve been paying this bill monthly for the past…I’ve paid to…to date, and my family is having a tough time during this economic crisis. Will you forgive the rest of the bill?” You just might be surprised with their answer.
You Didn’t Pay…Now What?
Just like unpaid credit cards, medical providers send unpaid medical debts to collection agencies.
The debt collector calls. These folks can be ruthless be prepared for, phone calls and letters saying you must pay right now. Know your rights when it comes to collections; refer to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Your credit. Just like credit card companies, medical providers may report your unpaid medical debt to the credit bureaus. If the provider sells the debt to a collection agency, that company may also report your unpaid bill on your credit report. Having these debts appear on your credit may hurt your credit score and limit your availability to obtain new credit.
By being proactive with your healthcare you can avoid being saddled with medical bills you can’t afford. Look into government assistance, obtain insurance to meet your needs, and if you can’t pay, ask for a discount or make a deal.
In the event you are stuck with bills you can’t afford consider your debt relief options. Don’t let medical bills hold you back from reaching your financial goals.
Have tip for those in need of help with medical bills? Leave it in the comments below.
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