Tips on avoiding and managing unexpectedly large medical bills

As if a devastating diagnosis or an emergency procedure isn’t enough of a surprise, consider this: often these tests and procedures are followed by unexpectedly large medical bills.  These bills can be bewildering, especially if you’re trying to deal with them while you’re still sick and/or in the process of recovering from your ailments.  One recent study showed that out of the 83% of survey participants who had health insurance, nearly 27% of them had difficulty paying those bills; also, 43% of survey participants who had been uninsured in the past year but who had since gained coverage also reported problems paying their medical bills.  These costs can be so daunting that they can result in bankruptcy.  The study also showed that the bankruptcy rates are nearly twice as high among cancer patients one year after diagnosis as compared to that of the general population; these bankruptcy rates (highest for lung, thyroid, and leukemia/lymphoma cancer patients) increased fourfold five years after diagnosis. 

Fortunately, there are several ways you can avoid incurring these large bills that could result in bankruptcy.  The below tips can help you plan ahead to reduce medical costs and can point you in the right direction when it comes to finding help negotiating unpaid medical bills.

Plan ahead if you can.  If you know in advance that you’re scheduled for tests or surgery, do your research ahead of time. 

  • Be informed.  If you are insured, know the details of what your health insurance plan covers.  Being insured does not always mean that your medical costs are all covered.  Ask your insurer and/or provider for an estimated cost of the treatment. 
  • When your doctor recommends treatment for you, find out whether that treatment is included in your insurance plan; if it isn’t, inquire about other treatments that your insurance does cover. 
  • Verify that the provider you choose is “in-network.”  While you’re at it, make sure that any labs that provider may use in the process of various tests they’re performing are also considered in-network, as well as the facility that the provider is in.  If the provider and/or the lab and facility the provider is using are in-network, your medical bills can be much less costly than if any of them are considered out-of-network by your insurance.

Emergencies happen.  Of course, you can’t always plan ahead.  Diseases aren’t exactly considerate enough to make an appointment with you or warn you ahead of time–so you may end up in the hospital unexpectedly.  So how do you deal with costs incurred from a surprise surgery?

Look to your benefits for help.   Navigating the healthcare system and making sense of complicated medical bills can be intimidating.  There are resources to guide you through the process.

  • Many employers offer advocacy services as a benefit to their employees.  One such service is Health Advocate, whose Core Health Advocacy program helps assist employees with clinical and administrative issues that deal with their medical, dental, hospital, and prescription needs, claims, and benefits.  A complementary add-on to Health Advocate’s Core Health Advocacy service is the Medical Bill Saver, which helps negotiate employees’ unpaid medical and dental bills whose balances are over $400.
  • Even if you’re not receiving benefits from an employer, there are still advocacy resources available to you.  Health Proponent offers individuals the Core Health Advocacy and Medical Bill Saver programs, too. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: