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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Taming Those Medical Bills

So I’m watching CBS Saturday Morning this morning, and a very interesting segment aired. The segment spotlighted a way in which to save money on the many medical billing mistakes that are apparently found when we pay for medical procedures. As I watched this segment, I began to think about aspects of the current health care regime in America.
When it comes to socio-political human behavior, two related questions have always plagued me: Why do people do things which they know will adversely affect their health, and how is it that in a nation where upwards of 2 million people a year declare medical bill-related bankruptcy how some people can be so against universally affordable health care insurance? In fact, one of the things that I’ve always personally campaigned for in my writings is the necessity for universally affordable health care insurance. Slam the notion as “socialism,” “health-care rationing,” or whatever narrow ideologically-driven level of thinking you want…the wallets of many Americans will be comforted by this notion.
But next to the pipe dream of totally free health care, the next best thing in helping us pay our medical bills is the reality that there are apparently businesses in America which help customers interested in their services find many of the overcharges which between 40-80 percent of all medical bills contain ("How to Fight a Bogus Bill"). In addition to watching the video segment from this morning’s segment of CBS Saturday Morning,
video
I have taken the liberty of posting—in addition to some of the advice that I’ve received—other colorful options for helping Consumers curtail high medical bills.

- Despite the reality that you have other financial responsibilities—housing, utilities, food, childcare, etc.—every effort should be made to pay medical bills. Because bill collectors have become so much more aggressive in attempting to collect owed debt (see: "Debtor's Prison 2.0" for example), ignoring this responsibility will not make it or the consequences go away.

- Paying off large portions of a medical bill (or the bill in its entirety) could be even more beneficial to you beyond the obvious. Many doctors, clinics, and hospitals will generally offer a 20-30% off medical bills if you can pay them off in a shorter period of time, so by all means seek to negotiate (to help accomplish paying off my own medical bills, I was lead to a
third party company, like Access One, which I took advantage of by doubling and sometimes tripling the payments in order to erase my payment obligations 2 years before the 36 month projected payoff date).

- On the point of negotiating bills (the basis of the video which spurred this particular posting), many times you can talk directly with your hospital billing department, doctor's office or medical clinic to gain more favorable payment options (my sister once negotiated with a dentist office to have her medical bill cut by $600; she was paying in cash for services). The fact that doctors and hospitals don’t want to send any unpaid debt to collections—only to potentially collect at a loss 80 cents or less on the dollar—operates in your favor with any negotiation efforts.

- On the point of negotiating bills (the basis of the video which spurred this particular posting), many times you can talk directly with your hospital billing department, doctor's office or medical clinic to gain more favorable payment options (my sister once negotiated with a dentist office to have her medical bill cut by $600; she was paying in cash for services). The fact that doctors and hospitals don’t want to send any unpaid debt to collections—only to potentially collect at a loss 80 cents or less on the dollar—operates in your favor with any negotiation efforts.

- Knowing full well that some proud individuals may avoid this next suggestion like the plague, consider the assistance of state and/or federal government-based programs to help defray or even pay your medical debt/bills. Both Medicaid and Medicare programs, dependent upon the circumstances, could be a literal life-saver in helping to address medical costs. The eligibility requirements for Medicaid varies state-by-state, but generally provides complete coverage
for low-income families (in addition to income, eligibility factors include age, pregnancy status, disability status, income, citizenship, and assets). Medicare (also based on certain requirements) is for individuals above 65 or for young individuals who are disabled. In addition, each state has a State Children Health Insurance Plans (SCHIP) which offers subsidized health insurance for children who don’t otherwise qualify for Medicaid.

- Every hospital has a financial aid or charity department (required by law for those who want to retain or are seeking non-profit tax status). These departments can be a helpful source in helping particularly hard-luck cases. There are also plenty of other non-profit organizations that provide help with medical bills. In either case, like with government programs, you need to meet certain requirements to qualify for financial assistance.



To summarize, if you can make small payments, the reality is that each option has its advantages and disadvantages. If you can make any kind of consistent payments, self-negotiation or working with a medical debt reduction specialist (i.e., outside/third-party negotiators) are your best options. If you cannot make a payment, government programs, charities and financial aid departments should be contacted.

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