The world of insurance and medical billing is confusing on a good day. U.S. consumers are vulnerable to being taken advantage of when healthcare is so complex and expensive. In fact, about two-thirds of consumer-level bankruptcies in the U.S. are due to medical costs
This is what you should know when dealing with surprise medical bills.
Get More Information from Your Providers and Insurance
The first thing to do when you receive a surprise medical bill isn’t to get yourself into a state of panic. Of course, this is going to be a stressful situation. Absolutely no one is delighted to get an unexpected medical bill. These are a few steps you should take immediately after receiving the bill:
- Ensure the accuracy of the bill. Mistakes do happen. It’s possible that you were sent a bill in error. Contact your insurance company and your provider to go over the costs on the document.
- Determine if you’re the victim of balance billing. Most people don’t know what this means until they experience it. Balance billing is where an out-of-network provider ends up treating you, insurance won’t cover it, and you’re left with the outstanding bill. This is a common occurrence during surgeries and extended hospital stays where there are so many providers who come in contact with the patient.
- Try to negotiate with the providers. It’s possible the providers will offer you a payment plan that will be much less arduous than putting the cost on a credit card.
- Appeal to the insurance company. There’s a chance you might be able to dispute some of the charge with insurance.
Consider Ways to Lessen Your Debt Burden
If you’re going to be stuck paying this surprise bill, it’s preferable to at least find some ways to lessen the blow. As already mentioned, there’s a chance the providers will negotiate with you on the terms of repayment. If this doesn’t do enough for you, it might be time to start considering a debt management plan.
There are a few elements that go into a debt management plan. The first thing to do on the consumer’s end is a bit of background research into various credit counseling agencies. When it comes to debt management, there are some pretty significant differences in the quality between providers. It’s essential to work with an organization that has a proven history of helping its clients.
When you opt for debt management, the agency will often be able to turn your various unsecured debt payments into a single, more reasonable one. Instead of paying creditors directly, you’ll make the payment to the agency — which will then distribute those funds. This will also get you on the track to paying back your debt while avoiding the dreaded collections zone. In exchange for sticking to the terms of debt management, you may be able to earn reduced interest and waived fees.
However, most lenders will make you close accounts when you enter debt management, which means you won’t be able to use those credit cards anymore. You will also have to pay a monthly fee for these services. Additionally, this might not be enough help for people who are deeper in debt. For individuals who need stronger measures to fix their debts, consolidation, bankruptcy, and settlement are possible routes to explore.
Ways to Avoid Surprise Medical Bills
One of the best ways to deal with a surprise medical bill is to be prepared for it before it gets to you. This requires some foresight and planning. But it’s well worth it if you can avoid some of the headache of a surprise bill.
Building an emergency savings account is the first step everyone should take in protecting themselves against unexpected bills. It doesn’t matter if it comes from a medical payment or anything else; if you have a bit of money set aside for emergencies, you’ll be able to more easily navigate these unfortunate surprises. It’s wise to automatically set a side a small portion of your income into such an account. Having a health savings account (HSA) through your employer is another way you can prepare yourself for unforeseen medical bills.
Going to the doctor is a hassle to begin with. Getting stuck with an unexpected bill makes it that much harder, especially if you’re struggling to pay. Consider your options before acting when you get stuck with a surprise medical bill.