The leading cause of individual bankruptcy in America? Health-care expenses.
According to CNBC, 67 percent of individual bankruptcies arise from high medical bills, which affect around 530,000 families each year.
Thankfully, there are tools to help you manage medical debt and stave off financial ruin. But did you know you can also negotiate your medical bill as soon as you get it, or even before you see it?
Spot billing errors
Before you negotiate medical bills, look through your statements to find errors. Most hospitals bet their patients won’t double-check their bills to see whether the treatments they received match items on their bills. Research the average price of each item on your bill by comparing what other providers charge for them.
Watch out for double billing
Providers sometimes inadvertently charge you twice for the same treatment or service, because of coding errors and so forth.
Watch out for incorrectly listed medications
You don’t always end up taking what the doctor ordered. This includes not taking, or taking a lesser amount of, a medication your doctor prescribed for you to take in the hospital.
Watch out for incorrectly listed visits
Certain types of visits are more expensive than others. For example, a general checkup may only cost you $70 while a comprehensive evaluation may cost $300 — you might see your general checkup listed as a comprehensive evaluation on your medical bill.
What do you do next? If you see anything suspicious on your bill, make a note of it for your letter of dispute.
How to write a letter of dispute to a hospital
Federal requirements dictate that your letter of dispute include identification of the medical bill in dispute and a written statement explaining the following:
- Your belief that the bill is in error
- Why you’re disputing the bill
- What items in the bill you’re disputing (including the dates you received treatments or services and who provided them)
Pro tip! You might want to include documentation from the research you did before looking for billing errors to show the billing officer what the fair prices of the disputed items on your bill should be. You can use this template from the Federal Trade Commission to help you draft your letter.
How to get medical discounts
Some providers offer discounts if you pay your bill up front since they won’t have to file insurance claims. Remember to ask about discounts while you’re still in the room with your health-care provider before they draft your bill — it may be too late to get a discount once your provider sends it to you.
Get outside help for medical bills
If you’re still left to pay for expenses you feel are incorrectly charged, you can reach out to city and state advocacy groups to help you. Local charities and church groups also often help individuals struggling to pay their medical bills — your hospital may even offer a charity program to help you as well.
The bottom line
Most Americans don’t know they can dispute a questionable medical bill. If a dispute is something you need to do, don’t delay in writing your letter and getting on the phone with your provider’s billing department to negotiate. Ignoring medical bills puts you closer to dealing with your bill in collections, which can be a nightmare and damage your credit score.