In March 2017, research group Ipsos Public Affairs released a stunning survey that showed 20 percent of Americans believed they couldn’t cover an unexpected medical bill. Even worse, most survey respondents felt a large medical bill would prove just as upsetting as a serious medical diagnosis.
If you’re in the same boat, there’s hope on the horizon. Medical debt can seem scary and even insurmountable, but if you take a step-by-step approach to managing your medical debt, you can get yourself out from beneath the obligation and continue to enjoy a high quality of life.
Watch for Medical Bills
After you receive medical treatment, watch your mailbox carefully for the bills you know will arrive. Keep in mind you might receive several bills from different providers. For instance, after a hospital stay, you might get invoices from:
- Emergency room physicians
- Labs that ran blood work and other analyses
- Radiologists that read images, such as X-rays and MRIs
- On-call doctors who performed procedures
- Physician groups
Since medical billing can take time, be patient. If necessary, call providers to let them know you’re waiting to receive all bills before you work out any payment plans. Simple communication can stop providers from sending debts to collections.
If a bill comes extremely late, make sure you owe it. Insured patients should receive an explanation of benefits, or EOB, from their insurance companies. This document lets you know what amount the insurance company has paid toward your bills. It also shows your financial obligation to the provider.
If you don’t have insurance, verify the debt by calling the provider. Remember medical facilities can make mistakes. In fact, a recent report by The U.S. PIRG Education Fund indicated about 63 percent of complaints about medical debt concern unowed or unverified sums.
Learn About Local Laws
Unfortunately, even the most vigilant consumers can get caught off-guard by unexpected medical bills. For instance, after a hospital stay, you might discover the hospital used providers who aren’t in-network with your insurance.
Since you have no control over that, let the hospital know about the problem. Explain you can’t cover medical bills without insurance taking care of the majority.
Additionally, find out if your region or state has enacted hold-harmless laws for situations like this. New York is just one state that has taken action to protect patients who receive out-of-network care while in a hospital or other clinic.
If you find yourself responsible for the bill, ask for discounted services based on financial need. Many hospitals and providers will offer steep discounts to patients who can prove they’re unable to cover medical costs.
Budget Your Money Carefully
Unexpected medical debt can trigger anxiety and other negative emotions, but don’t treat it any differently than you would another debt, such as a mortgage or auto loan payment. Instead, focus on proactive solutions to cover the amount owed.
For instance, you might choose a Prepaid Visa® card by Green Dot to manage your medical debt. Put money on the card every month, then use the money to pay off the debt slowly until you’re able to satisfy the amount owed.
Organize by Date
If you can’t afford to pay medical bills all at once, learn to prioritize. As mentioned above, providers issue invoices at their own pace, so you might receive one bill in January, but wait until April for another bill you incurred at the same time.
Pay invoices based on the date you received care rather than the date the provider sent the invoice. This can prevent collection attempts and help you pay off debt faster.
Know the Going Rate
Just like cars and groceries, health care services typically involve an accepted payment amount. You can visit the Healthcare Bluebook to learn what other patients in your area pay for similar services, tests or procedures. Once you know the facts, you can negotiate more easily.
Managing medical expenses can prove tricky, but you’ll handle the situation more easily with the tips above. To start down the path to financial success, get a Green Dot 5% Cash Back Visa® Debit card or Green Dot Prepaid Visa® Debit card and begin putting money toward your medical debt. (View Green Dot’s simple fees here.) The faster you start paying it off, the faster you’ll get rid of the debt entirely.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Green Dot Corporation.