Never Pay Your Medical Bills Without Asking These 6 Questions

A senior aged woman sits at her kitchen table while paying medical bills, talking with her doctor, and updating medicine prescriptions.
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High medical debt is no laughing matter in the United States. Among developed nations, Americans pay the highest amount for everything from prescriptions to surgeries. This is one of the main reasons why roughly 66% of bankruptcies in the U.S. are due to medical debt.

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Another unfortunate consequence is that the high cost of healthcare drives some Americans to avoid procedures or medications that they need, further exacerbating their medical problems. While you might not be able to change the system as a whole, there are some steps you can take and questions you can ask to help keep your medical costs under control.

Is Your Provider in Your Insurance Network?

Insurance is just one of the many confusing aspects of the American healthcare system. Depending on which provider you use, your procedure may cost thousands of dollars — or it may be free to you. This is why it’s imperative that you make sure any healthcare professionals or institutions you interact with are in your insurer’s preferred network. 

Is a Cash Discount Available?

Providers will often offer cash discounts to patients who don’t have insurance, or if they fall outside of an insurance company’s preferred network. Part of the reason is that providers often build buffers into their bills, knowing that a certain percentage will go unpaid.

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So, if you’re willing to pay right at the time of service, you may be able to score a discount of 10% to 30% or perhaps even more.

Where Is the Provider’s Price List?

Medical providers are required to have a price list for their services. If a specific price is not available, they’re required to provide a good faith estimate.

Of course, as a patient you may not always know exactly what to look for on the price list, as you may not know exactly what services or medications you’ll need. But it’s a good practice to get as much information as you can about what your procedure or service might cost you before you begin to help prevent overcharging.

Is Financial Assistance Available?

Medical providers understand that bills are a burden for many of their customers. That’s one of the reasons why many of them offer various financial assistance plans.

For example, you may be able to pay your bill over time via an installment plan, often without any interest, so it pays to ask. Other financial assistance might include getting a discount if you pay your bill in full. These and other financial assistance options can be a win-win, as they both allow patients to pay in more affordable ways and help medical providers collect on their outstanding balances. 

Is Your Bill Accurate?

Medical bills can be inaccurate more often than you might imagine. Sometimes, procedures are coded incorrectly in a provider’s system and end up costing much more than they should, while other times they might just simply be wrong, whether due to clerical errors, miscommunication, computer mix-ups or a host of other reasons.

Make Your Money Work for You

Verify the procedures and/or medications you’ll be receiving before you visit a provider, and be sure they match the bill you receive after your visit.

Is There a More Affordable Solution?

Medicine is part science and part art. If you visit 10 different providers regarding your medical condition, you might receive 10 different responses as to how they might treat you. For example, one doctor might suggest that you need surgery and an overnight hospital stay to cure your ailment, while another might simply recommend rest and medication. 

While you should never avoid a life-saving medical procedure that is absolutely necessary, you can certainly ask your provider if there’s a more affordable way to handle your situation. Generic drugs, for example, can be less than 10% of the cost of their name-brand alternatives.

Similarly, certain tests may be nice to have but not absolutely medically necessary. If you explain to your provider that you are paying in cash or have a high-deductible insurance plan, you may be able to come to an agreement as to how you can meet your medical needs without over-ordering tests or otherwise spending more money on your medical care.

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