Overwhelmed by a Medical Bill? You Have Options
High medical expenses can be overwhelming, especially when you get a surprise bill in the mail. Fortunately, there are options for help with medical bills.
February 2, 2022
It’s no secret that medical bills in the United States can climb extremely high. In total, more than $3.8 is spent on health care each year — with 50% of all Americans carrying medical debt.
The high cost of medical care leads many households to skip visiting the doctor altogether. In fact, around 32% of families reported avoiding medical care due to cost in the preceding year.
Skipping doctors visits can create obvious problems for our health and wellbeing — while seeking medical care can often result in financial strain.
What can you do to minimize medical expenses while still getting the care you need?
There are two aspects to pay attention to: Maximizing your insurance benefits and getting help with medical bills once you receive them.
Take advantage of health insurance and government programs
First and foremost, it’s wise to ensure you’re fully utilizing any health insurance and/or government programs that are available to you.
If you have insurance through your workplace, learn how much your health insurance covers by reading up on its benefits to get a better understanding of what is and isn’t covered.
If you don’t have insurance, check with your state’s health insurance marketplace.
The Affordable Care Act (often called Obamacare) established generous subsidies for low-income Americans. If you live in a low-income household, you may be able to get health insurance for very cheap (or even at no cost whatsoever).
It’s also a good idea to see if you’re eligible for Medicaid — or Medicare if you’re over 65 or disabled.
How to get help with medical bills
You may be wondering, “What if I can’t pay my hospital bill or other medical expenses?” Fortunately, there are a few ways to get financial assistance for medical bills, even if you’ve already received them.
Here’s what to do.
Read the bill closely
Mistakes on medical bills are alarmingly common, with estimates showing that roughly 4 in 5 medical bills have some sort of mistake. Often, it’s an error in medical coding — a procedure was marked using an incorrect health insurance code, and was therefore not covered by health insurance.
Because of the potential for medical bill mistakes, it’s important to read the bill over closely. You can search a database of common medical codes and compare them to the services you actually received. Or, you can call the health care provider’s billing department and politely ask them to explain the bill to you.
Call your insurance provider
If you received a larger bill than expected, a good first step is calling your health insurance provider. They can explain which parts of the bill were covered and which weren’t. And they may be able to adjust costs if something was billed incorrectly.
In some cases, you may also be able to appeal a health insurance company’s decision. For instance, if they approved a procedure but ended up denying certain aspects of the service, you can appeal their decision.
Negotiate your medical bill
Here’s a “life hack” for how to lower medical bills: You can actually negotiate bills in some cases. In fact, you can negotiate several types of bills.
This will usually involve calling the billing department at the facility where you received care. Do not contact the doctor or physician — look online for contact info and specifically reach out to the billing department.
When you call in, explain that you’re seeking financial assistance for the bill. The provider may be able to lower certain costs or offer a payment plan to help you pay it off over time. These payment plans are often zero-interest, making them a far better option than paying with a credit card or high-interest loan.
Are there government programs to help pay medical bills?
If you would’ve qualified for Medicaid but were not covered under the program at the time you incurred medical costs, you can apply for Medicaid coverage. If approved, Medicaid may cover the charges retroactively, for up to three months before the date you apply.
For instance, if you qualified for Medicaid (but were not covered) and received medical care in January, you may be able to apply for Medicaid in April and receive coverage for the January bills.
Apart from this, there aren’t any government programs to help with medical bills that you have already received.
However, various programs exist to help Americans get health insurance for future coverage:
Medicaid is available to many low-income households
Medicare is available to many seniors and those with disabilities
Health insurance subsidies are available for low-income households via the Affordable Care Act
Individual states sometimes have their own programs as well
Don’t let a surprise bill put you in debt
A large medical bill can be overwhelming, but it’s important to do whatever you can to prevent it from creating long-term, high-interest debt.
If you have an emergency fund, now is the time to use it. If you can borrow money from a family member or friend, this could be another option.
And remember, many hospitals offer payment plans, which are typically zero-interest. These plans could turn a huge upfront expense into a much more manageable monthly payment.
The last resort is putting the expense on a credit card. Credit card debt can create a financial burden for years to come — and the sky-high interest rates can turn a moderate bill into a massive long-term expense.
If you already have credit card debt, Tally† may be able to help. Tally is a debt payoff tool that helps qualifying Americans consolidate and pay off their debt faster with a lower interest line of credit for eligible borrowers.
†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. Based on your credit history, the APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% - 29.99% per year. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.