CNN’s Five mistakes that will land you in medical debt provides good advice to those who end up with big medical bills. Here are the mistakes they highlight:
- You ignore your bills –and end up hounded by a collection agency
- You don’t look for errors in your bills –because you don’t insist on an itemized bill or don’t scrutinize the one you receive
- You don’t negotiate the price down –when hospitals and doctors are usually quite willing to take what they can get
- You’re embarrassed to ask for financial assistance –even though there are several options and there’s nothing to be ashamed of
- You don’t work out a payment plan –even though hospitals and doctors will usually waive interest charges as well as accepting reduced payments
There’s another good pointer in the article: make sure your insurance pays all that it should.
I tend to agree with these pointers. Here are a few that I would add:
- Treat hospital bills as something in between a legitimate debt to be paid in full and a nuisance to be avoided. The total amount stated doesn’t necessarily bear much resemblance to what an insurance company would pay or what the hospital expects to collect. As noted in #2, it may not even be that closely related to the care received. If you get a hospital bill for $15,000 (like the subject of the CNN story) don’t treat it like a $15,000 bill from the IRS. Don’t ignore it either (see #1).
- Never take “no” from someone who isn’t empowered to say “yes.” This is very important. In negotiating a bill (or dealing with any other customer service problem for that matter) it’s likely you’ll spend a lot of frustrating time on the phone. Nothing personal –but if the person on the other end can’t solve your problem then get off the line with them ASAP.
- It’s also important to have someone to help with the process. Dealing with medical bills is tough, especially when you’re sick or recovering from an illness.
- Consider moving to Massachusetts. Sure health insurance is expensive here, but at least almost everyone has access to it.