What’s the most painful: (1) tripping over your dog and breaking your wrist in two places, (2) delivering a 10-pound baby sans epidural or (3) getting hit with a staggering medical bill? My vote goes to Option Number Three; after all, while pain is temporary, a massive medical debt could be with you forever. Comprehensive medical insurance, bare bones insurance or no insurance—whatever your situation, you could easily wind up with a huge medical bill. Case in point: a North Carolina man was charged $80 thousand for an 18-hour hospital stay after being bitten by a snake. Fortunately, unlike many other types of bills, medical bills are usually not set in stone and there’s often significant room for negotiation.

Be your own negotiator: scrutinize your medical bill

According to a professor of health finance at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis, up to 40% of medical bills may contain errors such as double billing, use of incorrect billing codes or assessment of excessive fees for visits or procedures. To spot potential errors on your medical bill, wait to receive your Explanation of Benefits (EoB) from your health insurer in the mail. You’ll normally receive your EoB in the mail a few weeks after your medical visit. Also, some health insurance companies allow you to check your EoB online. Once you receive your EoB, call the billing department for your hospital or doctor’s office and ask them to send you a detailed, itemized receipt. Then compare your EoB to your receipt to make sure that they match. Your receipt should list the correct procedure that’s also listed in the EoB, and you should never be billed twice for the same service or procedure.

Also, if a fee for a particular service or procedure listed on your receipt seems much higher than you expected, look up that particular service or procedure on FairHealthConsumer.org—a non-profit organization that provides a free database of cost estimates for medical services and procedures. If there’s a large discrepancy between what you’re charged on your bill versus the cost estimate in the Fair Health Consumer database, this may indicate that you’ve been overcharged. If you find billing issues or potential errors, contact both your insurance provider and the billing department of the hospital or doctor’s office.

More DIY negotiation tips

  • Ask for a cash discount: Many medical providers will give you a significant discount if you can pay your bill in cash within a short period of time (usually 10 – 30 days).
  • Pay the same day: While this many not be feasible for those with limited resources or in the event of a massive medical bill, many providers will give you a significant discount if you can pay your bill the same day it’s issued.
  • Ask about interest-free repayment plans: If you can pay off your bill within a specific amount of time (usually two years), many medical providers will be able to set you up on an interest-free repayment plan.
  • Ask about financial assistance and charity care programs: Many medical providers offer financial assistance and charity care programs to help reduce your medical bill. Eligibility is typically based on your household income. Since many medical providers don’t always reveal that this type of help is available, you need to specifically ask about these programs. If you’re dealing with a hospital provider, the best person to speak with is the hospital’s financial counselor.

Use an expert to negotiate your medical bill

If you’ve been hit with a massive medical bill, you may want to consider hiring a professional to help you negotiate down your bill. Here are two of the most popular services:

  • Medical cost advocate: Medical Cost Advocate is an expert medical-cost-reduction company that lowers client medical costs through professional negotiation and advocacy. Once you’ve entered your medical bill information online, the service will then contact your provider, conduct a professional negotiation, obtain agreement from the provider, and charge your credit/debit card for the final reduced amount on your behalf. If they don't save you money, they don't pay the provider and their services are free. If there are savings, Medical Cost Advocate will charge 35% of such savings to your credit/debit card. Medical Cost Advocate will also instruct the provider to charge your credit/debit card for the agreed upon amount after the medical bill negotiation. According to Medical Care Advocate, they can typically negotiate a savings of 20% – 50% off your medical bill.

Here’s a sample medical bill reduction for Medical Cost Advocate, but keep in mind that actual savings may vary based on medical procedure, provider and geography:

  • Hospital bill review: Hospital Bill Review is another expert medical-cost-reduction company. After you retain their services, the experts at Hospital Bill Review will take over negotiations with the hospital and all of your physician bills and will work with your medical practitioner or hospital for the purpose of negotiating a favorable payment amount.  Hospital Bill Review charges an up-front fee of $350 and they guarantee a minimum savings of $250. If Hospital Bill Review obtains any additional savings over $350, they then charge you 25% of any additional savings. If Hospital Bill Review can’t get you any savings, they’ll refund the initial $350 fee.
Negotiate Your Medical Bills: A Rx for Savings